/ 2 December 2022

Big Days go with Big and generous hearts

Fighting prejudice: Zanele Muholi’s portrait of Dikeledi Sibanda.
Fighting prejudice: Zanele Muholi’s portrait of Dikeledi Sibanda.


Well, the Big Days are finally upon us! Whether you call it Dezemba, the festive or the silly season, December is officially when we swap our power suits for flip-flops and cocktails. 

Personally, it’s a time when I get to gleefully annoy my neighbours by playing Christmas music at the highest volume. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who loves Christmas. I get it from my mother — at home we decorate the tree and watch innumerable Christmas cooking shows for inspiration. 

Christmas Day breakfast is my responsibility and, over the years, I’ve made everything from frittatas to a traditional English breakfast. 

My mom and I usually start discussing the menu at the end of November but since the pandemic we’ve learnt to chill a bit. Actually, let me rephrase that, I’m the one who has learned to chill. The Queen of Hearts is a beast in the kitchen, so she’s not fazed by Christmas lunch — I’m the hypochondriac in the family. 

My mom has been cooking since she was nine years old and is arguably the best cook I know (closely followed by my friend Mokgadi Itsweng, who’s a judge on the EatOut Awards and co-author of Veggielicious).

Over the years, we’ve learned to fuss less about the turkey and the roast potatoes and work on prepping as much as possible before Christmas Day, so we can fully enjoy each other, without spending the entire time sweating and slaving in the kitchen. 

It’s my favourite time of the year. I get to sleep in the same bed as my mom and talk and talk and talk until the birds start chirping. She’s one of my favourite people to chat to, my mom — funny, irreverent and one of the kindest and loveliest people in my life. 

Through the years my siblings and I have introduced her to our significant others and she’s always been gracious and welcoming. 

Then, of course, there are the leftovers on the 26th and that’s when we really get to flourish as a family. Christmas leftovers are everything. 

But, as wonderful as this time of the year is, I will never forget that Christmas 10 years ago when, for the first time, there was an empty seat at the table. My dad died in January and that first December was heavy and unfamiliar, like functioning without a limb for the first time. 

Grief has a way of leaving you utterly bewildered. It’s heartbreaking when you realise you’ll never again get to have Christmas and new year with loved ones who have died. 

As I type this, I know someone is about to experience their first Christmas without someone they love. Navigating grief at a time when you’re meant to be filled with holiday cheer is something I don’t think human beings will ever be fully equipped to deal with. This is why I was touched to read about comedian Eugene Khoza’s comeback after a five-year hiatus. 

Having lost his son and his best friend in a short space of time, Khoza found himself suffering from a severe sense of humour failure and the kind of grief that had him spiralling down an incredibly dark path. 

One of the things Khoza speaks about is how men, particularly black men in South Africa, are not encouraged to explore, and more crucially, express their feelings.

There will be many men this festive season who will have to face the crippling reality of not being able to shop for Christmas clothes for their children, let alone book holidays or buy toys and gifts. And please understand, I’m not implying women won’t be concerned about the same things, because we probably have more female single parents in this country than we care to admit, but more men have “providing” as a default setting than women. 

The shame of working and still being broke can break hearts and families and Khoza has got me thinking about what we can do to show each other some grace during this time, because not everyone will have the luxury of a bonus this month. 

Two days before writing this, I had the honour of being on a call with artist Professor Zanele Muholi, and was moved to tears when I spoke to them about why they started the Muholi Art Institute or MAI (pronounced “mai”, which means mother in Swahili). They say it’s because, with all the acclaim they’ve achieved, it is time for them to give back and share their knowledge and skills with others. 

Giving back and showing generosity doesn’t always mean giving money — time and resources are equally impactful. As you start getting ready to open throats earlier than midday, and take your much-needed leave, identify someone — or a family — who needs a helping hand this festive season. 

Abundance follows the generous. “To whom much is given, much is required.” Here’s to, not only the Big Days but Big and generous hearts!