Christmas in Summer

Summer's greatest advantage is simplicity: no need for layers, winter-warming stews or refilling hot water bottles. Summer calls for breezy fabrics, fresh dishes and plenty of sun and laughter. In South Africa, braai culture resumes with enthusiasm and the long days are spent outside and among friends. Having lived in the UK for many years I feel with total conviction that the sun plays a vital role in one's happiness. I remember my mother saying that she didn't see me smile for two whole years! Now back in the sun it is impossible not to be filled with energy and optimism. Vitamin D booster? Or maybe just the fine weather welcoming a healthier lifestyle...summer brings the life out of all who sleep.

The 'White Christmas' fantasy plays out differently when living south of the equator, and adaptions can be just as magical. Here in South Africa, the traditional angel Gabriel can be a zebra-clad Zulu warrior in shades with rainbow nation wings. In place of a silver Christmas tree sparkling with fairy-lights and Harrod's balls, a tree can be guinea fowl-feathered and spiked with porcupine quilled balls, and a few red chilis for flavour; or covered in hand-picked seashells tied with short strings of raffia, with a dried out starfish to crown the top; or even adorned with dusty pink King Proteas, our country's national flower. My artistic and extremely dramatic family has experimented with all sorts of themes over the years, always adapting to the environment. Going beyond the traditional marzipan-coated, holly-sprigged Christmas cake, this year our cake is covered in peppermint green birds, pinkish hearts and cherry-red polka dots, each hand-pressed and bejewelled with a silver sugar ball—and as tall as a ruler!

One of our most memorable Christmas traditions are my mother's handmade crackers. Each one is named and filled with a special surprise, making for an unforgettable celebration each year. Our Christmas table requires the helping hands of all family members, and we've had some spectacular tables over the years. My favourite was the botanical table: the younger children were sent to the mountains in Hermanus to collect specimens of the most beautiful fynbos they could find. We then put these small handfuls of Cape foliage in jam jars of all shapes and sizes. We set these on dome-topped glass cake stands. From the outside they looked like miniature floral kingdoms, and the fragrant, delicately-textured pink paper flowers inspired the table's green, gold and pink colour scheme.

Magies vol oogies toe ('tummies full and eyes closed', an Afrikaans expression) is the perfect way to describe the atmosphere after dinner. With remnants of Christmas cheer lying in furls of gold tissue paper on the floor, the candles die low and melt onto the tablecloth. Family and friends leave aglow with the fresh feelings of celebration, to be unwrapped again the next morning with the presents under the tree. My mum, dad and three sisters prefer to burn the candle on both ends and open our presents that same night by the tree's lights. So much better to catch a beauty sleep than wake at sparrow's fart the next morning! A South African Christmas is warmth inside and out.