Christmas is a magical time around the world; typically associated with brightly lit streets, extravagantly wrapped gifts, Christmas trees draped in tinsel, festive feasts of stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and decadent plum pudding. However, in the South African lowveld, whilst the meaning of Christmas remains, notice of the festive season is a very different affair. There is no such thing as snow-sprinkled Balsam firs, sleigh-pulling reindeers, or living-room fires whose dancing flames thwart Santa’s arrival down the chimney.
Our Christmas period falls in the middle of the hot, summer, rainy season and the very first indication that Christmas is on its way is the arrival of so many different babies. Doe-eyed impala lambs rest in their herd nurseries below the leaf-laden trees, tawny-brown wildebeest calves nibble on the fresh green shoots that the early summer rains bring, and tiny warthog piglets trot eagerly behind their mothers, their tails elevated to show the way through the flourishing summer grasses.
The trees buzz with all kinds of birdsong and the descending calls of the migratory Woodland Kingfishers who fly south to nest, add an African complement to the Christmas carol ceremonies. Masked weavers chatter as they lace together their carefully constructed nests, and the migrant, yellow-billed kites scavenge on the afterbirth left by the calving impala ewes. These are just some of the tell-tale signs that Christmas is looming in the African bush.
Traditional Christmas trees, like the other conventional decorations, are also a rarity. At Khaya Ndlovu Safari Manor, Tracy, our Ops Manager has renewed the energy of a lifeless Sisal tree. Standing proudly in the Khaya entrance hall holding its brightly painted rhino and elephant shaped ornaments, it serves as the perfect eco-friendly imposter.
The kitchen is busier and noisier than usual. Mixers, grinders, and the other utensils preparing the festive season menus, compete with the joyful music blaring from Vandi’s speaker. This does not include the melancholy tone of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas dreams! Again, there is nothing traditional about the mains on Vandi’s festive menu, but more a selection of local dishes that include amongst others, orange-glazed duck, and rack of lamb.
Reindeers are not found in our neck of the woods either, but our guide, Sam has improvised on this essential Christmas component. Appropriately dressed in a Father Christmas suit, Sam makes a grand appearance aboard one of our fence-patrol ex-racehorses, Splendid Tambur, whose eyes are out on stalks! He is probably wondering how he has gone from racehorse to patrol horse to reindeer all in one lifetime! “One thing is for sure” says a giggling Sam “the lions will not catch us if we are called to help deliver toys on Christmas Eve! My Rudolph won eight races in his racing days!”
Whilst the time-honoured associations of Christmas are absent in the African bush, it is a magical and truly spectacular time of the year, made even more special by the fun-loving team at Khaya Ndlovu Safari Manor.
Merry Christmas from all at Khaya Ndlovu Safari Manor