OUR Christma WITH A TWIST
You don’t have to stick to the same old traditions. Marike Watson meets three readers who are doing things di erently this year
‘THIS YEAR, I’LL BE VOLUNTEERING AT A SOUP¢KITCHEN INITIATIVE WITH MY HUSBAND AND THREE CHILDREN’ ‘It’s humbling, and reminds me just how lucky I am’
MAKI CHASE, 43, is a financial adviser. She lives in Somerset West with her second husband, Steve, 33, and her three children – Zack, 17; Zita, 15; and Lize, 13 – from her first marriage.
“In our home, Christmas Day was always a really festive a air. After a flurry of excitement exchanging gifts and hugs, we’d gather round the dining table that had been decked out in bright reds and sparkly golds to pull crackers and feast on honey-glazed duck. I loved the sense of tradition and merriment, and the holidays played out this way for 16 years, till my husband and I split in 2011.
After my divorce, I began to think about how Christmas can be a very lonely time for many people. It’s easy to forget that not everyone has a family or special place to go to, and to take what we have over the festive season – from the food to the gifts – for granted. That December, when faced with a Christmas that would look very di erent to those my kids were used to, I decided to shake things up. I wanted to embrace the spirit of goodwill in a meaningful way by starting a new tradition of giving back.
I reached out to a local soup kitchen, run by a lovely lady named Valencia Armstrong, in the underprivileged community of Macassar. Over the last eight years, my kids, my mom and I have volunteered there on occasion, including past Christmases. My heart always went out to the kids who came in for a meal. In my mind, Christmas is a holiday epitomised by the joy of children, so I felt strongly about bringing some festive cheer to the youngsters Valencia’s kitchen fed. With her and the community’s blessing, I started to plan a new Christmas-outing experience for the children last year.
A delicious meal at a local Spur was what I had in mind, so I called up friends and family to raise funds for the event, and was ecstatic to meet my target in only five days! Some also o ered to help chaperone the outing, and one friend, Kulsum, agreed to donate fun stationery kits as gifts. On 25 December, my three kids and I joined 23 chaperones and 100 excited Macassar children on the buses I’d arranged to take us to the restaurant. From the get-go, the atmosphere was electric, with laughter and smiling faces all around. After our bellies were full, there was a joyful burst of carol singing... and a visit from Santa, which the kids adored. I was so grateful Steve o ered to dress up in that suit, despite the heat!
The trip was such a success that we’ll be running it again this year, but this time for 200 kids from the community. Seeing the other children take such joy from something as simple as a meal really left an impression on my own kids, who thoroughly enjoyed the outing, too. Spending time with those less fortunate over Christmas was both rewarding and humbling, and reminded my family just how lucky we are.” >>
‘I’LL BE SPENDING CHRISTMAS DAY WITH THE DOGS AT A SHELTER’ ‘Good deeds, no matter how small, really do make a di erence’
PETRA LARANJO, 41, is a motivational speaker, self-help author, and founder of Justonething365, which is a social initiative that inspires people to do a good deed every day. She and her husband Craig, 35, live in Sundowner.
“Our three rescue dogs – MJ, Tammy and Jess – have brought such joy to our lives. I can’t imagine not being greeted by their ‘smiling’ faces and excited barks every day. While there are still thousands of abandoned dogs in need of loving forever homes, for our three, their search is over, and we shower them with love and attention.
Adopting them has made me much more appreciative of the challenging work that animal charities face, which is why I decided to show my gratitude in person last Christmas Day. I visited the Randburg SPCA to deliver heartfelt thankyou cards and bags of festively wrapped cookies to the dedicated sta working that shift. While it was only a small gesture on my part, they really appreciated the sentiment. I’m a huge believer in the power of good deeds, no matter how small – it’s not only about giving back and uplifting others, but also about embracing a sense of purpose and living a meaningful life. While I felt great about my good deed that day, my visit was also tinged with a little heartbreak. Nothing pulls at my heartstrings quite like the eager eyes of an abandoned dog hoping to become yours. I remember leaving the SPCA that day with a lump in my throat, thinking about the beautiful white pit bull I’d walked passed in one of the first kennels. He leapt up excitedly on his hind legs, tail wagging, eyes soft and hopeful, as if to say ‘pick me!’. It was a struggle to say goodbye to this playful fellow.
Back home, MJ, Tammy and Jess’s boisterous greeting raised my spirits, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of sadness about the young pit bull who would be spending his Christmas alone. While I knew I couldn’t adopt any more dogs, I felt there had to be something else I could do to brighten these animals’ day, and that’s exactly what I plan to do this Christmas.
I got in touch with a few local animal organisations a couple of months ago to find out if I could make an informal visit to their shelters with a group of volunteers on Christmas Day, spending the morning playing with and walking their dogs. The Irwin Animal Rescue Centre, which cares for mostly senior dogs that have been abandoned, was the first to say yes. Craig and I have invited all our friends who’ll be in town for the holidays to join us. I’ve asked everyone to bring a bag of dog food and a doggie treat or toy, as well. After playing with all the pooches, we plan on having a fun breakfast picnic with the sta as a way of saying thank you to them. It’s going to be a wonderful start to my Christmas Day, and something that I plan to do for many Christmases to come.”
For more information on the Irwin Animal Rescue Centre, visit bit. ly/2cvghuw, or call 078 199 5861.
Petra, pictured here and right, is making Christmas less lonely for abandoned animals