CO-WRITTEN BY FRIEDA LEVYCKY, FOUNDER OF BRAVING BOUNDARIES, AND ALICIA KOCH, FOUNDER OF THE LEGAL BELLETRIST
We have come to that time of the year when Christmas decorations are up and festive music is playing in malls, in shops, on the radio and on tv. Best like Boney-M or you’re in trouble…
We are surrounded by green and red tinsel and running around trying to make the most of Black Friday specials – special gifts for loved ones at a fraction of the cost? Yes please!
And with all the decorations, music and tinsel, a lot of us revert to childhood. When we believed in Santa, leaving milk and cookies on fireplace mantels or windowsills – in case he needed a snack. We remember the excitement of waking up on Christmas Day to find gifts under the tree. We hum old Christmas carols, and a smile begins to show on the corners of our mouths… let’s be honest, who doesn’t feel a little like a kid at this time of year?
Traditions aplenty come to the fore and a lot of us remember times passed, hoping to make the same memories now that we’re older. After all, it’s those traditions that often keep family and friends together – whether they like each other or not.
And all of this got Frieda and I reminiscing about our own childhood Christmases. As much as we know that life changes and there is an immense joy in creating new traditions and memories, there is a nostalgia for the familiarities of our past … and, really, who can blame us? 😊.
Alicia’s childhood Christmas traditions
Being Jewish my childhood Christmas traditions are a little different to most.
First off Christmas coincides with Chanukah – our own “festival of lights” – where we light a 7 branched candelabra called a menorah, every night for 8 nights. It’s to symbolize the reclaiming of our Holy Temple (during the second century BCE).
While I didn’t have a Christmas tree, we lit the menorah every night during the lead up to Christmas. I remember it so clearly… my grandpa would turn off all the lights in the house so that the only light would come from the menorah. When we turned lights back on, there was a small gift left in front of me. Nothing big or expensive. A token really. But I really looked forward to those nights – for the lights … and the prezzies.
Back in the day, and on Christmas Eve, all shops and restaurants in South Africa would close for the night. Every single one, except the local Chinese restaurant. So, every single Christmas Eve from before I can even remember, saw my family ordering sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice on Christmas Eve. A family staple. We had fortune cookies and bowties and there was an amazing festive atmosphere. My grandmother would buy Christmas crackers – which I loved – and we would all wear the silly hats, going around the table telling the silly jokes from the crackers. It was a big celebration with family. This happened every year until my grandfather passed in 2001.
Christmas Day saw us spending time with my uncle who had married out of the faith. That’s where I got to experience my first Christmas fir tree – with all the lavish decorations. We had a full Christmas lunch complete with turkey (and delicious stuffing) and of course, Christmas pudding. Then came the gifts – all wrapped up in green and red splendour. It was sublime. Every year on Christmas Day I felt like I had entered another world – complete with sparkly things, with delicious things and because I was the only niece, with gifts galore. It was fantastic. And I could truly see what all the fuss was about. This carried on until I was in to my early 20’s.
Another Christmas staple was watching Scrooged. It came out when I was 6 and I have watched it every single year since. That’s 35 years of watching the same movie – you would’ve thought I’d be bored of it by now. Not a chance! I love the movie and cannot wait to watch it again this year.
It was truly a magical way to grow up. And because of that, I absolutely love this time of year!
How have Alicia’s family traditions changed?
As is the course of things, traditions change. And then they change again. At least that’s the case for me.
When my husband and I moved into our home, we decided that we wanted to build our own traditions. We borrowed the Chinese take-out from my childhood on Christmas Eve, only now I get to drink tsing tsao (a Chinese beer) or even better, sake (and yes, I know these food and beverage items are unrelated). We also watch Scrooged without fail and with full bellies and happy hearts usually have an early night.
Christmas Day has seen me host a big Christmas lunch for the last couple of years – I would cook for days before so there was always a real spread – turkey and stuffing included. My family would come over and any friend that didn’t have somewhere to go would join. That always meant our house was full to the brim with laughter and jokes, food and drink, music being played, kids in the swimming pool (because it’s always so hot) and love all around.
Sadly, this all changed in 2022 when my uncle and dear family friend emigrated to Australia and the UK respectively, and my grandmother and, most recently, my aunt passed away.
These days my husband and I choose to go out for lunch – instead of cooking a big spread just for us two. Any friends who have nowhere to go, will join us at our favourite Greek restaurant, Kolonaki in Parkhurst. In fact, I’m really looking forward to some scrumptious lamb chops this year – nom nom nom…
Life has changed and so have our traditions. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We still laugh and joke, there’s still food galore, there’s still music and festivities.
It’s still a lovely way to celebrate the holiday season. And I’m very grateful for that.
What about you Frieda?
Frieda’s childhood Christmas traditions
Christmas has always been my favourite celebration! I mean, as a Brit, how could it not be? The build up to Christmas always offers a welcome reprieve from the cold, dark creep of October and November.
As the city centres turn on their Christmas lights, the childlike enthusiasm comes to the fore.
Local stores ward off the cold by serving their Christmas blends of eggnog latte, spiced apple cider, gingerbread mocha and traditional mulled wine; carolers go “a-wassailing” bundled up in as many layers as humanly possible; Christmas jumpers are fished out from the bottom drawer and proudly paraded in public; and parents discover their newfound capabilities to transform a velvet curtain into a wise-man’s robe for the annual nativity play.
There is a joy, a merriment, a creativity, and just a bit more of a willingness to “go with the flow” as December steers its course.
My memories of Christmas as a child all orientate around my family, and three memories clearly spring to mind:
Christmas for us really began on 1st December when our first presents arrived. Nanna and mum used to make my sister and I personalised advent calendars with small gifts ranging from a Santa chocolate bar, to a snowman key ring, to a reindeer nose, to a miniature snow globe. Every morning, my sister and I would leap out of bed to rip open our latest pressies! In hindsight, I’m pretty sure mum’s enthusiasm for the advent calendar benefited her just as much as it excited us. December was the only month we ever left the house for school on time 😊
As members of the church and school choir, December was always chock-a-block with rehearsals for the school Christmas concert, nativity play and the various carol services. We even got to sing with Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet if you quote Patricia Routledge) at the Liverpool Philharmonic one year! Now, that was fun (even though we did get told off by our parents for getting a fit of the giggles during the concert)!
The Christmas morning church service was always my favourite though. It was the only day in the year that pets were allowed in church and, as you can imagine, it was chaos! Dogs peeing on pews, budgies escaping from cages and cats clawing the clergy. Someone even brought a snake once to get blessed! The poor vicar – he didn’t know what to do with himself! I always loved that service. Everyone in the congregation participated: heartily singing the Christmas hymns (not worrying about whether or not they were in tune) and embracing the chaos that ensued around them. It was all about patience, love and kindness … and for us kiddies … the Christmas pressies that followed 😊
Another Christmas Day tradition was the afternoon Christmas movie which we all watched together right after the Queen’s Speech. From Home Alone to Santa Clause the Movie to Indiana Jones to Crocodile Dundee. Nope the latter two are not Christmas Movies, but they were always shown on the 25th! I think the Christmas Day movie became a tradition due to the fact that none of us could move after over-indulging in the Christmas feast! Whatever the reason though, it’s a tradition that still occurs every time I celebrate Christmas back in the UK and a tradition that conjures up many happy memories for me and my family.
How have Frieda’s Christmas traditions changed?
Even the thought of pulling on a wooly Christmas jumper on 25th December makes me break out in a mild sweat! Christmas these days is spent in 26 degree heat, hiking the dogs up Table Mountain for their Christmas walk, braaiing seafood on the barbecue and having a dip in the pool! South African weather is not exactly conducive to English traditional Christmas attire! 😊
Despite the heat though, the tradition of “family” still infuses Christmas Day. Each year, instead of celebrating Christmas with my clan, I get to celebrate with my husband’s family – a big, raucous bunch, crossing multiple generations, who enjoy Christmas just as much as mine do. It’s a day filled with games (Secret Santa, pass the parcel, and whatever the latest TikTok trend is), a Christmas quiz (of course) and funny tales about family members who are no longer with us. Each Christmas also has a theme for the Secret Santa gifts. These have included “naughty Santa” pressies, “drinks”, “red & gold” and, for this year, the theme is “do it yourself”. No one is allowed to buy a present – they need to get creative and make something. Heaven help us! 😊
Friends who are alone for Christmas also come over and join in the merriment. It’s an invitation that I love to extend and have learned from being an expat. There were many Christmases that I couldn’t get back to the UK and was always grateful when friends invited me over in Singapore, Japan, and Geneva. No one should be alone for Christmas, in my view, and we love sharing our crazy new traditions with our friends.
The one tradition that has carried through though (well, at least when I am hosting) is the Christmas lunch. Turkey, pigs in blankets, Brussel sprouts and bacon, caramelised parsnips, roast potatoes and, of course, Christmas pudding and mince pies, are aplenty (even if they are cooked on the braai)! It brings that little bit of English tradition to South Africa. And, quite frankly, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
Making the most of our Christmas traditions
The Christmas traditions of both Frieda and me revolve around family and friends, around togetherness and – of course – around merriment.
It’s a time of year where we are encouraged to be around other people – regardless of what religion we practice. We do our utmost to come together in one way or another. Perhaps it’s not always in person, perhaps all you’re able to do is a Video call. But the thread that binds us all through the festive season is the need to be together.
Life may change, our traditions may need to adapt but the one sure thing that we can all agree on is this – however you celebrate during the festive season, whatever traditions you may need to adapt or change, whoever you spend your Christmas with, we hope you do so with love and warmth in your heart.
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy New Year to all!
Frieda & Alicia xx
About the Co-author, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.
Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism.
Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.