Why I’m freaking out about this year’s “normal” family Christmas

In a household where yuletide tradition goes unobserved, how do you plan for an unexpected get-together with the whole clan?

By Dorothy Diaz

How are we going to spend Christmas? What are we going to do? Who will we be with and where will we go?

The questions raced around my head, and out of my mouth.

“Can you please calm down!” I heard a scream, almost followed by a smack on my head. My mom’s polite way of shutting me up.

She has a loud voice and a quick hand and is always ready to smack one of us, so I ducked even though her hand wasn’t raised. Better to be safe than sorry.

My mom is a very kind, loving and supportive woman. That’s how the neighbours and the rest of the world see her. We, her kids, are the wiser, though!

We have learnt to have quick reflexes. Our ducking skills are at professional levels. The Matrix casts pretend, but we live it.

My mom firmly believes that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. By her reasoning, that’s why we have such good manners.

Too bad she never literally spoilt us with Christmas gifts, a Christmas tree, the belief in a Father Christmas, etc.

All these festive traditions were fairy tales and lies we were cautioned never to believe. We were taught to give to others instead and to do something for someone less fortunate during the festive season, especially on Christmas Day.

“Thou shalt not want!” This was repeated into our ears and we could not block it out. We learned to live it and eventually loved it.

Some of us loved giving to others so much, that it was all we wanted to do. I remember my younger sister giving her clothing to a homeless shelter, leaving her with only one outfit when she was 11 years old.

The message was clear, and the value was learnt. We passed these values and ways of living on to our own children. We are cheerful givers, some more cheerful than others.

We got gifts as awards for good behaviour and good academic achievements, just not at Christmas time.

Our Christmas tradition was to gather at a women’s shelter in downtown Joburg on Christmas day. The shelter caters for abused women and their children.

It gives them a place to reside until they can get back on their feet. We would have breakfast with the ladies, huddle around, and talk about the crises we endure as women.

We would give each other advice and educate our children on the do’s and don’ts of relationships, in our attempts to make them better women and men.

We may not be qualified to give each other advice, but our real-life experiences are true lessons. This was our “Dr Phil” moment with each other.

But since the breakout of COVID-19, we were told we could not visit the shelter until further notice. Our visit to the shelter is seen as a public gathering, subject to lockdown restrictions.

So we have to revert to a plan B. What will we do now? Where are we going?

My siblings and I glare at my mom, waiting for an answer, since she never let us celebrate Christmas the “normal” way. I have one biological brother, two adopted sisters, one adopted brother and a teenage son.

Mom is the head of our household and we go to her for answers that affect the entire family. My dad is a non-traditional man. He would take us to school, feed us, and do all the things moms were supposed to do with their daughters, plus all the things dads are supposed to do with their sons, which probably contributed to our boyish ways.

We would do the garden with him, cook meals, play soccer, learn to fix cars and make boy toys from scrap. There was no separation of gender roles in our house.

A chore was a chore and if it was your turn, best you get it done, or mom would come home and smack you.

“We are waiting for you to tell us what to do!” My younger sister yelled. She is the youngest and loudest of the pack.

She usually speaks out of turn too, and usually gets most of the smacks. But still she braves on! She is our Shera, Princess of Power.

We were all frustrated and wanted to know what we would do on Christmas day. The answer: we would spend the day at my house.

“We will all go to Dee’s house,” said my mom. “She can get us a Christmas tree and we will just exchange gifts like normal families do.”

So now I find myself Googling “normal” things to do with my family on Christmas day. I am researching where to find a Christmas tree, downloading Christmas recipes, and creating a Christmas to-do list.

It means that my siblings, and all their toddlers, plus my son, will be occupying my house for an entire day. A family gathering never seen before.

I’m freaking out, because I have no idea how things will turn out. The sentiment will not be the same as it was when we were at the shelter. But still, I can smile, knowing we will all be together on Christmas day.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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