Kwanele Ndlovu tells us how to survive Christamas this year
“The entire family has estimated your tax bracket by now, and knows more or less what your annual bonus should look like”
Remember that glorious moment when everybody ululated as you stood up at your graduation party? And how they then all congratulated your mother, and envied her since she would now be living a lavish lifestyle because her children had made it? That was the precise moment of your demise. On that day, you joined the ranks of the elite lot who are indebted to family, traditions, and the community at large. And this Christmas will be yet another reminder of just how taxing family bonds can be — especially if, like me, you really don’t have it together in life to begin with.
You have a good job. The entire family has estimated your tax bracket by now, and knows more or less what your annual bonus should look like. You dare not say you cannot afford to contribute towards the Christmas lunch. So remember to withdraw as much cash as possible, and do not question your aunt’s arithmetic prowess nor try audit the grocery slips. She knows exactly how to subtract herself from the collection and double yours. You work in the city — of course you will be paying more than everybody else.
By this time of the year you are about 9kg — plus a silent ten — above your goal weight. You have spent the entire year squatting during loo breaks at work, and refusing help from polite gentlemen because you wanted to carry that extra load for weight lifting. You jog, right? Okay, you stopped jogging because the neighbourhood dogs wouldn’t let you sweat in peace. And you still make the minimum required swipes on that gym membership every time you crave a moment in the steam room. Truth is, you aren’t so great at physical routines and cardio is a tantamount to cardiac arrest in your books. That is why you have a healthy eating plan instead.
But it’s Christmas now. In a house packed with more than 20 visitors, how are you going to explain that all the healthy food in fridge is reserved for only you? Abandon your “no bread and starch” diet. First of all, you will be buying the bread: a whole two loaves a day for the entire month. Add several other miscellaneous items of food to that, such as fresh chillies and baking soda.
And yes, they all still remember your ex’s name and you will again be explaining why you left such a “great guy”. After all, it’s been only five years since the break-up: why would anybody forget? He cheated and lied, but who cares — he remains a family favourite because you dared bring him to meet the family in 2010 and he bought your uncle two bottles of vodka.
Your family has a pet name for him, and he is a feature in your grandmother’s album. Then, while you stand in the kitchen, trying to convince all three aunts that you are happily single — your sister will arrive with her husband and kids in their shiny sports utility vehicle. Your mother will be wearing that pinafore apron she was given at your sister’s traditional wedding ceremony… and the doek.
Don’t let those unsolicited sympathetic stares affect you. And when one of your relatives says: “At least you have a child. You’ll also get married when the time is right,” it’s not a complement. That very spawn devastated your entire family, because that guy still owes them a cow for your premarital activity.
Well, you are still single, and practically still a child in the middle of all these three tier wedding rings weighing down everyone else’s hands. The women have clear preferences and precise instructions for everything. But they can’t lift a finger to cook or clean when you are around. So you are tasked with doing everything. Everything! You took vacation leave, yes, but you better not be thinking your grandmother’s house is a hotel.
And all your generation’s children are still too young to assist with the chopping at the very least. You have to beg the younger cousins to get off their phones for a minute and help. “Your big arms are made for stirring that pap pot, cuz, I envy you for having so much strength,” chuckles your lazy cousin, while she hides behind breast-feeding and watches you prepare a lunch for the entire clan. The real reason you take offence is because she is skinny even though she just had a baby.
But you are comfortable in your skin right? Of course you are. Okay, go on and taste one more spoon of that pap because you are back to eating starch this whole month.
You have been to the shops. Town. The neighbours. Delivered a load at church. Fetched a load from church. Now you have been to fetch your aunt from the bus stop. As she alights, she will ask: “What was the rush with buying a car when your mother’s cupboards are falling apart? You kids of today have your priorities twisted. My sister will suffer till her death!”
You built your mother a home. You are the reason she has a kitchen to begin with. She has not suffered since you saw your first pay, and you have broken your back this holiday to make sure her Christmas day is special. In fact, the only reason you still pitch up is because the tradition is precious to her. You could be sitting quietly with a glass of wine and a good book enjoying great company in a different province instead.
Breathe in. Breathe out. And don’t say a word!
The old crone will not ruin your Christmas. She has a beautiful fitted kitchen and no drivers’ licence. In fact, you shall not let anyone or anything they say stop you from enjoying such a beautiful occasion. You have spent too much money on the preparation for the festivities to leave now.
You will get into the house and dish up the lunch. You will smile for all the family photos, and let your cousin Cindy choose whichever one flatters her best side and post it on Instagram. Have a bottle of wine. Have as much wine as you need. Your uncle will ask for money to buy cigarettes or beer again. This is not because you have a phuza face that makes him thirsty for a cold one every time he sees you. No. He just needs to find a job and quit smoking before he coughs both his lungs out.