This was my story last year. As soon as Halloween was over and the Christmas playlists came into full swing, little thoughts of Christmas past began to crystallize in my mind like the beginnings of morning frost. I remembered my previous Christmas, where despite enjoying the company of my family, I was plagued. Plagued by the reoccurring presence of, "The Holiday" on the television. Each night as I switched it on, there it was jumping out from a different channel. Jude Law showed his smooth face for all to see, while mocking the lonesomeness of my situation. I vowed that next year would be different! Fast forward to one year later and as the world of consumerism began to stuff Christmas down my face, the little voice of Christmas anxiety began to whisper in my ear. By the time I had gone in for my milk, it was yelling Slade style, "It's Christmas!" I needed an antidote... Travel!
Christmas Eve arrived with no hesitation and I found myself in Cape Town for Christmas. Along the way, the only bit of Christmas I had encountered were a few bits of tinsel, a tree or two, and a designated Christmas shelf in the supermarket. I filled my anti-Christmas gap by enjoying the penguins, a few wine tastings and lying on the beach. Cape Town's waterfront complex provided the biggest clue that Christmas was just around the corner, but at the Big Blue Backpackers hostel, the coming of Christmas was simply marked by the number of beer bottles around the pool. Day turned into night and when the ashtray began to overflow, a call came from the bar for a special on Christmas whiskey. A special on Jameson that was available for everyone, except for Toby, who was the German who found himself already facedown in the pool with his passport floating beside him.
I hadn't been in Africa since I was 18, but as soon as I saw Joburg’s Jacaranda trees, smelled the chicory coffee and visited the bottle store, I knew in that corny fashion of African sentimentalism, there was a little piece of me already here to come back to. An unexpected familiarity left as a present all these years, unwrapped and unopened, sitting under the Christmas tree, waiting just for me.
I was the last one up in my dorm the following morning. I looked at the time and scrambled downstairs, desperate not to miss last orders for breakfast. Within two minutes of being awake I knew that I needed food and tea to quash the rumbles and grumbles within my stomach that I understood to being hunger, and not the signs of sickness. But then my own Cape Town haze took over, like the cloud hanging over Table Mountain. As I took my place with the other morning people (none of my new friends were in sight), I forgot to say Merry Christmas.
As my traditional Christmas hangover dwindled and the day unfolded, there was to be no fussing over turkey timings, no debate over why I wouldn't be going to church, and no idealistic expectation of a white winter wonderland wrapped in emotion and love, like a silly Disney film. Instead, my day was filled with Castle lagers, racks of ribs on the braai, and a group of people who took solace in the company of strangers and the warmth of the sun. In my own version of "The Holiday" there was no Jude Law, only the connections that were made in that time and place. Once more, the bottles of beer collected around the pool, and there was a sense of openness that was the size of the veldt. This year, Africa gave me the gift of saneness through the daunting holidays, which I knew was a gift that would last all year long.