Reminiscing on a rural Christmas – An opinion piece

Finally! The most anticipated time of year, the Festive Season. I’m certain that we’re looking forward to spending time with family and friends. To some, Christmas Day is the most important part of the holidays. Let us not forget the 1st of January, which is equally important, and how the 16th of December which has proven to be the most important day amongst the young people, well at least in my area. All this got me thinking about how this time was spent in rural areas especially back in the day.


Men had to leave behind their wives and children to come Johannesburg. It was the only place where they could earn a better wage. The came from areas like the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, KZN everywhere in South Africa. They would spend the entire year labouring in those mines with no mid-year holiday, no freedom days and basically nothing. You can imagine the anticipation in these men felt to see their wives and children when finally the year came to a close.

Unfortunately some men would not go back to their families in the distant parts of the country, they had started new families with the Transvaal women, in the City of Gold. The wives and children back home would wait for their husbands and fathers holiday after holiday, these men would not just not come back. A holiday was a hard time for them, I tell you. Eventually, a letter would arrive to the wives in the rural areas informing them of the developments and asking them to come to Johannesburg. My old man fell a victim to this, holiday after holiday, he waited for his old man who just never came home.

The responsible and reliable men would, at the end of the year, go back to their beloved wives and children to spend the holidays together. They would not bring much, and they wouldn’t buy fancy gifts. My friend, it was a different era. There were no iPhones or Playstations back then. Even if there were toys, kids didn’t know a much about them. A good father would bring his wife a shweshwe dress, his son a shirt, a pair of trousers and a pair of school shoes, his daughter would get a dress and a pair of school shoes.

Men and their wives would have a blast during this period, mostly men. There would be a lot ancestral ceremonies where there would be a lot meat and umqombothi. It was just their way of drinking a lot of alcohol and eating a lot of meat in the company of their friends. Children were forbidden to attend these ceremonies, but they had their fun. If they were lucky, they would get to eat the intestines. Those kids had deep respect for the elders, didn’t consume a lot of alcohol, and generally celebrated in an enthusiastic but well behaved festive season.

We now live in a very different era. We celebrate these holidays in “style”. We indulge in all sorts of things, good and bad and we ruin our entire lives in the process. We become mothers and fathers before our time. Let’s combine the new way we celebrate these holidays with our cultures and traditions. What our fathers and mothers learnt from their folks was the responsibility and patience to wait to become an adult for them to have that glass of beer, tot of whisky, have that cigarette between their fingers if they had to and have that woman or man they loved by their side.

It’s the FESTIVE SEASON, have fun and party wisely!

Lunga Ndleleni

BANGULA Language Specialist