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Decking the halls in Hazyview - Accidental Tourist, Christmas in Mpumalanga

And so that was Christmas.

And this is another of those thank-goodness-itís-all-over pieces combined with one of those why-do-we-always-have-to-moan-about-Christmas articles.

Christmas in the Lowveld was hot. Staggeringly hot. And it didnít rain until it rained. And then it really, really rained. 100mm in two one-hour downfalls. And everything washed away faster than any hopes England might have had of winning the Ashes.

We survived the Christmas party and faced the prospect of living with multi-coloured foreheads for weeks after the dye in the paper hats ran in the heat. Moving speeches reminded us who had survived the year and who had movingly/tragically left. The food was good. Everyone managed to wield knife and fork without accident.

We went back to the hotel. Senior Management stayed up drinking Zandvliet Shiraz until dawn. Junior Management did all the work the next day.

Decorations up. Fake snow is vaguely laughable in the Lowveld. Jingle Bells sounds daft too. The Little Drummer Boy is a schoolboy earning a few bob beating a jam tin outside Foto First.

Panic shopping in Hazyviewís new mall is newly exciting. It boasts a Pickín Pay and, joy, oh joy, a Clicks Ė the best shop for last-minute present-shopping because the prices are not irremovably stuck on with superglue. In fact they are not stuck on at all.

The queues in the Post Office are unworkable. The population within 30km of Hazyview increases from 600 000 to 1.6 million over Christmas so the cards and letters must wait until after New Year. Another week wonít hurt. And then itís time to work oneís way through all those ghastly round-robin newsletters Ė Uncle Reg has had his other hip done, Mumís Bridge/30 Seconds/Scrabble Four won the Annual Bokkiesfontein Triathlon, Meganís got straight Aís again and Calvinís finally got a job even if it is as a part-time trolley-pusher in the morgue!!!!!!!

I had an aunt, uncle and ten cousins from overseas to stay for Christmas, many of whom I hadnít seen for fifteen years. It was great to have a hotel for them all to be able to treat like a hotel. Santa arrived, apparently towed by six kudu. We had turkey and gammon and mince pies and crackers and home-made Turkish Delight.

The swimming pool bubbled with ball-hurling children and their parents. My cousins rafted rivers, rode horses, quadded puddles and threw themselves off platforms on the canopy trail. We topped it with a world-class leopard-sighting and my first ever African wild cat at Akeru in the Timbavati.

On New Yearís Eve we had a party around the pool with all the right revelries and rivalries Ė the hotel was hosting Americans, British and Dutch as well as South Africans and had them fighting it out in various challenging quizzes, although we stopped short of pass-the-orange when one of the Americans got a bit frisky.

It put it all into perspective. We really should stop whining about Christmas in Africa. We have good weather. We can chuck our children in the pool instead of watching the Queenís Speech. We donít have all those arguments about the politically-correct Christmas, celebrating the pagan Winterval and trying not to upset people of other faiths. Whilst much of the world is suffering its annual bout of introspectiveness, suffering from the bizarrely-named SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder) and laying odds on whether real snow will land in London, we are on the beach or game-spotting, touring our beautiful country en route from braai to braai.

And to crown it all, now that itís all over and we are back at work, we can return all our unwanted presents to Game. So donít complain about the queues to return your myriad hankies, avocado soaps-on-a-rope and gift sets of aftershave, keyrings and leathermans (or is it leathermen?). Itís a service they donít have in Europe and it enables you to keep your hand in when it comes to the shopping.
Because, after all, itís only 344 days to Christmas.

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