Sunday, June 19, 2016

Midwinter Festival

It’s almost midwinter and the rain that has been lashing down on our tin roof all day is a welcome relief in a country where you spend the first half of winter worrying about the rains not having started properly yet, where dams are still alarmingly empty after the summer drought, where we are all too dependent on a borehole, and a falling water table is a potential disaster. So rain = good.

Except that earlier this week, when a drenching cold front was forecast for yesterday, the date of this year’s winter festival, we were a little bit ungrateful. Luckily the weather angels moved it back a bit; so yesterday the bonfire building, the making of lanterns, the filling of brown paper bags with sand for candles were done under grey blustery skies, the strong wind worrying cautious elders; should we be lighting a big bonfire with forceful gusts ready to carry sparks all over the place?

But the angels had this taken care of too. We decided to keep going with the usual plans, bonfire, braai fire, tables and food carried outside, and once it was dark and we were ready to carry out our lanterns, the wind eased; not completely but enough for it to be fun sitting outside around a bonfire, so that kids with colds could stay out long enough for sparklers and soups, so that we could be thoroughly smoked, and even catch a glimpse of the almost full moon appearing behind scudding clouds.

Our kids are all teens now, but there are still several younger kids to take up the torch of eager excitement and anticipation, to run around in the dark and get a thrill from sparklers and legalised pyromania.

A new highlight this year was the beautiful origami phoenix, made by a 10-year-old friend especially for the festival, to be set ablaze ceremoniously.

It was so meticulously folded with such intricate detail that we were all loathe to see it go up in smoke, but Leo was determined that that was what he’d made it for.

It proved harder to set alight than expected.. he and his sister tried a sparkler applied to its tail, which started to catch and then fizzled out. So he took it over to the bonfire on its stick and dunked it right in to the flames, after which it blazed in spectacular style.

(No-one has been out to the fire remains yet today to see if a phoenix egg has been left among the ashes... but I guess it would be a paper origami egg and so would be now sodden in the rain!)

The original inspiration for our festival, conceived 14 years ago when we’d just moved out from London with two young children, was to indulge in all the winter highlights that otherwise fall in summer here in the southern hemisphere. So the bonfire and sparklers from the UKs Guy Fawkes night, the mulled wine and lanterns from English Christmases and any other fire themed extravaganzas that inspired anyone along the way. The festivals have evolved to be an occasion to gather with friends, to give thanks for the gifts of the season, to connect with the flow of the year and each other. And to feast, run about madly and catch up with friends.

When the kids were younger and several families of friends slept over, they’d be out by the embers of the bonfire at first light next morning, making new mini fires from any still glowing coals. This year we woke to the rain and the damper of high school exams tomorrow, with studying to be done. But there are still the joys of a lunch of extravagant leftovers, a fire to bit lit in the fireplace and maybe once studying is done a movie snuggled on the sofa.

Last year's winter festival.