Christmas in South Africa, 1947

Only a few days left until Christmas. This year, I’ve asked Father Christmas for a dollhouse like the one my friend, Sally, has. Will he bring it? Oh please, please, Father Christmas. I think I’ve been pretty good, except for that fist fight with Keith last week.

Christmas comes in the middle of summer in Johannesburg and we usually eat Christmas dinner around the pool with cold ham and potato salad and big juicy slices of watermelon.

It’s a lot of fun but I wish we could have snow like you see on the Christmas cards and sing about in Christmas carols. Even in winter we don’t get snow! So we do the best we can – sticking bits of cotton wool on our windows as the sun beats down and draping tinsel round the tree.

Last weekend we drove up into the hills to find a Christmas tree. My dad packed a big saw and a tarpaulin and some rope into the boot of the Chevy. As we climbed, the aloes and thorn trees gave way to clumps of pine trees. When they were really thick around us, we parked the car and hiked in amongst them. We crunched over the pine needles, and a lovely woodsy scent rose up that let you know it was Christmas time.

It took a while for my mom to decide on the perfect one. Seemed like she walked around every tree on the hill, shaking the branches and stepping back and frowning. Finally she found one with a nice straight trunk and lots of almost evenly spaced branches. My dad started sawing quickly before she changed her mind!

Now the tree is in the living room aglow with tiny twinkling lights and my mom is in the kitchen spreading marzipan over a big fruitcake. The cake smells a bit like daddy’s breath when I sit on his lap after dinner and watch him sipping his brandy. When I think my mom’s not looking, I dip my finger in the almond paste, scooping a big swirl and sucking my finger clean. But she’s seen me again. I swear she has eyes in the back of her head!

“Oh, for goodness sake, Annetjie, stop that. I bet you haven’t even washed your hands! And you’re as jumpy as a Jack-in-the-Box. You can’t make Christmas get here any faster that way.”

It’s true I’m having a hard time standing still. Will Father Christmas bring the dollhouse?

My mother has her hands on her hips. She wants me out of there. “Why don’t you go and tell daddy his tea is ready. He’s somewhere in the back yard.”

I run outside, but I don’t see him anywhere in the garden. He must be in his workshop. I skip down the pathway and burst through the workshop door. Daddy is there, sanding a plank of wood.

But then I gasp and cannot speak and my feet feel frozen to the floor. My mind is spinning and as the puzzle pieces tumble into place, I am devastated. They lied to me. None of it is true. I spin on my heels and run back out the door, blinded by my tears.

Because behind my father on the workbench stands an almost finished dollhouse, even more beautiful than Sally’s, and I know now that there never was a real Father Christmas.