Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our Winter Festival Over the Years

Christmas in summer still doesn’t feel quite right for me, even though my kids have grown up with it. Sunshine, salads and a cold lunch are quite normal for them, though they always prefer it when it’s cool enough for roast potatoes to go with the turkey. So when we first got here we came up with the idea of cramming some of those wonderful winter traditions from my English childhood, sparklers and bonfires on Guy Fawkes night, mulled wine and lanterns at Christmas, into one big celebration of winter.

That first festival back in 2002 revolved around making lanterns and carrying them on sticks in a procession to create our circle (the circle that is now the centre of all our festivals). We then came back down the hill to light a huge bonfire and drank mulled wine. I think we had sparklers that time, if not then certainly by the next winter they had been added to the essential ingredients list, along with soups and boerewors rolls and an avenue of lights made from tea light candles in brown paper bags.

When the kids were smaller the most exciting thing about the evening was being able to run around outside in the dark, while the adults stood around the bonfire warming hands on mugs of mulled wine. Now the older ones have graduated to sitting around the fire watching sparks fly, though nobody has quite got too old for a sparkler or two, and licensed pyromania retains its allure.

Our festival a couple of weeks ago heralded the winter holidays and was a really lovely one. We had new friends join us and the kids did most of the preparation work themselves, with teams  decorating the archway,  filling bags with sand for the candlelit pathway and the boys building the bonfire. The Malawian couple who live on the farm joined us for the first time, intrigued by the whole idea, as in the days leading up to the festival Simon had been working on clearing some of the restios that were gradually overgrowing the sandpit.

Lanterns lit and ready for the procession to the circle

 The chilly wind died down while we were busy making lanterns inside and by the time the sun had gone and we were lighting the lanterns it was almost warm and completely still, the moon well up and the Venus Jupiter conjunction bright in the night sky. It really was magical as we sat in the circle, read our blessings and the vision prayer and coaxed the kids into singing.

Then a few of us rushed to the house to bring the soups and mulled wine out, others put a match to the bonfire and the men started braaiing the sausages around a smaller fire. We had a fine array of soups from butternut to lentil, chicken to beef and barley, as well as a bean stew. Two huge plaited loaves disappeared without any trouble and there were still boeri rolls for those with any room left. We were all loath to leave the fire so it was late before we eventually moved indoors for puddings, some of the littlest having already fallen asleep on the sofa inside, though signs of life returned once the scent of pudding was in the air.

Look for the Venus Jupiter conjunction just over our heads.

Licensed pyromania

Altogether a wonderful festival leaving us all feeling re-connected, to the turn of the seasons, to the earth and to each other.

Read more about our winter festival and building the bonfire


  1. I have to admit, reading about your winter festivals as we are sweltering in summer haze here in NY seems like a fantasy... I understand the science, and that it's actually fact, but somehow in my mind it seems like a fairy tale that you tell just to take us out of our heat-soaked doldrums. Sort of like when you're a kid and you read stories about people from other countries who live in tribes in the jungle, and you believe it in your brain, sort of, but not really. Gorgeous photos, as always!! Hugs!

  2. Yes I'm still getting used to seeing sunshine heatwave pics from up topside of the world, when we're shivering down here. My brother in Melbourne had snow for the first time since his kids were born. Our kids are still waiting to experience it.

  3. My brother spent a number of years in New Zealand and seemed to settle into Christmas as a barbecue meal by the pool. I would have been like you and really missed the winter festival. I think you made a fantastic experience of it over the years and it is something your younger generations will always recall and perhaps even carry on. I envy you living somewhere where the light pollution is so little that you can not only see the stars and planets clearly but actually capture them on camera. A great post, Kit.

  4. HI John, thanks so much for stopping by to comment! It is wonderful to be able to see the stars so clearly and watch moonrises and sunrises from the stoep - that particular magic never fades.


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!