Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our Winter Festival 2013

Fire, candlelight and warm winter spices wafting from mulled wine, lanterns and sparklers these are the elements of our winter festivals.

We started them to make an occasion for all those winter things that I missed when we moved here from England. In South Africa the celebration times are summer – Christmas, long holidays, braais, beaches. Bonfire night, lanterns, mulled wine and all those cheerful things that  add a dash of colour and brightness to the long dreary winter in England just don’t have a proper niche over here.

So we started with a bonfire and making of lanterns our very first midwinter on the farm and that is how our seasonal festivals began. That first year we built our bonfire down in front of the cottage, but first carried our lanterns on long poles to the sandpit, where we stuck the poles in the form of a circle right in the middle, which is how the circle began. Our children were still toddlers and needed help to balance the lanterns on the ends of their poles, but were thrilled to be outside in the dark on an adventure.

From then on the whole celebration took place in the sandpit; we added sparklers to the list of essentials, an avenue of brown bags with candles to make a pathway, an extra braai fire to cook sausages on. And in all the twelve winter festivals we’ve had, only on one occasion were we driven inside too soon by rain. All the rest have been blessed by a window of still, clear weather.

Saturday was no exception – Friday’s wind had blown itself out, a storm was forecast for Monday, but there we were with an almost-supermoon rising and taking on an absolutely brilliant wide corona in the hazy sky.

The girls had spent hours in the sandpit in the afternoon and came up with two fabulous ‘Winter’s sculpted out of sand, which they then lit with candles.

The sculpture the next morning, after a dog had added to the detailing

There was one deputation tidying up the circle and straightening out poles, which come adrift or get blown over in between times, a bag filling and positioning party, the men on bonfire building as they discussed matters of global importance.

Then the last two families arrived and there was a flurry of lantern-making, candle distributing, as the spices from the mulled wine pervaded the house with (to me) Christmassey smells.

There was also butternut soup, a mildly spiced ‘Persian’ bean soup (I’m waiting to share the recipe with you until I manage to take a half-decent photo of it, and there was no way I had time for food photography right then!), my plaited loaves, puddings hiding in the fridge until our return from the circle and a cooler of sausage and boeri to be cooked outside.

Candles were lit in lanterns and brown bags, food ferried down wrapped in towels to be ready, warm and waiting and then finally everyone was ready, our gaggle of older children still not too old to enjoy being outside in the darkness with fire and flame our only light, and the youngest members of the party at three and four keeping the excitement and wonder of it alive.

That wonderful moon with its glowing corona felt like the ultimate blessing on the celebration. We stayed our by the fire long after the mulled wine was dispatched, the soups and sausages eaten, only being drawn inside by the puddings when the fire had collapsed into a heap of hot embers.

For the first time we had a few little fireworks  - the Catherine wheel

The next morning, still clear and cold, the fire a heap of ashes with a faint plume of smoke from the last end of log, lanterns still bright and unfaded by rain.

And later in the afternoon, after a brunch that is more of a late lunch, energies fade further!

Two more winter festival posts if you'd like more pictures of lanterns and bonfires: our 2012 winter festival and winter festival 2011. And my mulled wine recipe if you're tempted to fill your home with spices aromas!


  1. Looks like someone needed a good nap after your festival! The morning after pics are amazing :)

  2. I have always loved reading about your midwinter festivals (now new and improved with presence of cute kitten!) - who knows, maybe one day I will get to attend one :) And you *know* it was a good party if you did not have a chance to photograph the food ;)

  3. @Tandy afternoon naps after festivals are much needed - all that running around in the dark until 10 o'clock!

    @Jeanne It would be wonderful if you could make one of them - if you are ever out here near a solstice or an equinox, consider yourself invited!

  4. I say this every time, but I have to say it again. Pure magic. The sand "Winter" and moon picture! Unbelievable!!!

  5. @Marcheline - you're welcome to say it as many times as you like! It is magical - my favourite festival of the year!


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