by Laurie-Ann Copple
This was part of the view of Christmas lights in central Worcester a month after we arrived in 2017. In 2020, there were no lights!
Christmas lights are often a big deal for me. They are like fireworks, but in a usually in a different season. Fireworks in Canada are in the summer, and Christmas lights are in winter. We are about to have our fourth South African Christmas, which is very different than Canada. We are now used to having Christmas (and Advent) during the summer, with different foods than we normally have in Canada. Christmas is the only time of year that you can find frozen turkey for expats like us. These are found in the more upscale supermarkets (but they aren’t varying sizes, they are pretty small turkeys. But it still is a turkey, and it helps us with certain small things that we get homesick for).
South Africans often have a cold meat lunch, with salads such as onion, carrot, jelly, green and other salads. The meats tend to be cold tongue (I’m not fond of this meat), corned beef and ham (which they call gammon here). These meats and cooked and cured by the buyer rather than the butcher, although occasionally you can find a cooked gammon/ham that you can cut up and slow roast with a glaze of honey, cinnamon and hot water. Mmmmm.
Our first South African Christmas was three years ago. It was spent in a guest house, so we could only warm simple meals in a microwave or two-burner hotplate. Our second Christmas was a bigger deal. We found a turkey and cooked gammon, and made a feast for some of our Iris family Canadian style, with colleagues Maggie (from England), Kaysha (from the US) and her Rwandan fiancé Alex. We had a lovely family time. Before that day, I asked the girls we mentor what they do for Christmas. Because this ‘festive season’ tends to be too expensive for township folk, they just try to have a nice meal, and if their family can afford it, some new clothes (usually bought at PEP, a cheap store that sells many clothing and shoe items). There doesn’t seem to be much special about that, but hey, Christmas can get expensive. For those who tend to drink a lot, it’s also a time that binge drinking becomes the order of the day.
Thieves get extra ambitious and steal cellphones from other poor townsfolk (and anyone else for whom they can get access). We are working with two cases of dear friends who are victims of phone theft. One is an elderly blind lady who lives in a smaller township near the centre of town. She was initially helped by a young man who moved a used appliance into her home. He knew she was blind, and saw her phone on her bed, beside her hand. He was brazen enough to steal her phone and sell it for drugs! Tony kept calling the number, and eventually the new owner of the phone answered. He explained to the lady who the phone had belonged to, and that she was old and blind. He asked if he could buy the SIM card so that our friend would at least have her contact numbers. She agreed. Meanwhile, after some searching, he found a simple phone that she could use. She tested it out with Tony, and when she heard Tony’s phone ring, she was so excited! That phone is her lifeline. The cost was only R150, about $12.
The second story is about one of the girls that we mentor. We had already received divine nudges to buy her a laptop for university, since she was to go on a scholarship to a Cape Town university. Her phone was in her back pocket and while she was in a shop, a thief had brazenly stuck his hand down her pocket and grabbed the phone. She felt it but he was so fast that it was no use catching him. This girl needed a phone to be able to care for her grandma (who is the head of their family) and do high school homework. While Holy Spirit spoke to us about giving her a computer, there was no leading for the phone. We decided to have her help us with some apartment cleaning, in exchange for a phone and other things. It was a win-win situation. We showed her my South African-made Mobicel Glo, to see if she could navigate that phone. She liked it. We pray that we can find this excellent value phone in the local shops (Ackermans or PEP).
So we pray for a special Christmas for those we are in relationship with here in Worcester. We still provide many grocery and toiletry items to help them get by. Prices have risen and grants are small.
We are thankful for what we have as well, including a turkey dinner that we plan to have with two of our ‘dependents.’ Last time it was a family of six, but that’s too much in these covid-19 times. Even with these restrictions, we trust that this can be a special Christmas. Christmas isn’t just about food, family or Christmas lights. It’s not even about carols, although we trust we will get those in the new Hillsong Christmas Spectacular that we plan to see at a Ster-Kineor cinema shortly after I have a chemotherapy port flush on December 23rd. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Even though Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th, it’s still a time to stop, think, be thankful and focus on the Christ child who loves us so dearly.
So Christmas for us will be a time of worship, and visiting with dear South African friends to share a meal of cold meats and salads. Boxing Day (Day of Reconciliation) is our Canadian Christmas in name, and when we host a turkey meal. Christmas is for giving, even if you don’t have a lot. But even more, this is a time of giving yourself. May you shine like Christmas lights, and glorify our Father who is in heaven.
Merry Christmas to you! May God bless you.
Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
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