An African Christmas

Below the equator, Christmas falls in the middle of the summer, when the sun burns the skin. It had been strange for me to be in shorts and flip-flops in Cape Town during Christmas. The stores were as noisy as those in the States and the people crowded the markets.

What was strange was that the faces were mostly black – fifty black people to one white person. And I was the strange one. I could feel eyes following me as I threaded through the market, several languages assaulted my ears. Some of the women around me carried their babies on their backs, blankets covering their bodies, and their small curly heads peaking out of the blankets.

I had wanted to stay in South Africa. It had caught my imagination and a piece of my soul. I loved the colors and the languages and the cultures. But, I couldn’t find a job. So in a few days I would be back in the States, back to my boring life.

A man touched my elbow, “Missus,” he said, his words heavy with extra sounds, “Won’t you buy?”

I shook my head, no, pulled away, and continued through the market. He turned towards the next customer as I moved away. I looked for a place to sit down so that I could watch the colors and movements of the market. I would have to press these moments into my mind and heart so that I could remember them years from now. I already missed it.

In the corner of the market, a group of men and women gathered in a corner. I turned with I heard the first bars of “Silent Night.” It was not the normal rendition from my home country. The lead singer sang the first sentence and the rest of the choir sang it back in harmonies that I had not heard before. I stopped and watched them. The swung back and forth, the lead singer sang outward to the crowd. By the next song, the entire market had stopped to watch and listen.

The women with babies, the sellers, the men and women of various nationalities clapped and swayed with the music. And then, as the music swelled, young men in black boots jumped in front of the crowd. They jumped in delight and smashed their boots on the ground, the people in the crowd clapped with the music, and it swelled outwards until it filled the entire market.

I became a part of them. I clapped, sang, and heard the music with my entire being. Every muscle sang in joy to the child who had come to earth.

And then it ended. The market became a mass of single individuals looking for food, clothing, and if they had enough money, a few presents. The noise roared around me.

I knew that I had been given a special gift – not of gold or of priceless things, but a gift I could take with me where ever I might go. I would remember always this people.

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