The Towns of Christmas Past

I gaze out the window at the rain streaming down the windows of my cottage in Carmel on Christmas Day and like the ghosts of A Christmas Carol, I think of Christmas days past.

Growing up in South Africa we would spend a few weeks of our summer vacation with family in Muizenburg a wonderful little seaside resort outside Cape Town. Our days were spent swimming in the ocean, body surfing or just jumping in the waves. We lay in the sun or strolled the boardwalk buying candy floss and ice cream cones._DSC1363

I remember the Christmas Day picnics on the beach. My grandmother would bring baskets of food from their home in Belleville. She would save the large round tins that elegant cookies and chocolates came in, and fill them with at least three different varieties of sandwiches. She would unwrap fried fish from one basket and open jars of chopped herring and pickles. There would be grapes, oranges, mangoes, peaches and vegetable salads. The breads would include challah, and rye. Dessert was a dream; layered chocolate cakes, scones with jams and cream, a variety of pies – all homemade. We were a large group with all the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, but we had enough food for everyone on the beach.

On my visit to Cape Town this past August I remembered those days. I remembered how as a teenager the beach to be seen was Sea Point.  How as college students we fried our bodies on the beach rocks and then dunked in the cold waters of Clifton beach._DSC1520 Nothing had changed. The rocks and the sand looked the same. The seawater swimming pool was still there and very popular. Table Mountain still rose above the city with homes and gardens at its flank._DSC1513

In 1979 we bought a cabin. It stood in the woods of Telemark Resort in Wisconsin, which was a cross-country skiing mecca. Every winter our family would spend the Christmas/ New Year week there. The first thing we did on arrival was to climb down the ladder into the hole under the house (not a basement) and turn on the water. Then we would turn the heat up on the hot water heater on the side of the cabin. Only then would we build the fire, light it and fall onto the couch in bliss.IMG_3816-1

We spent our days cross-country skiing. A reward for all the exercise was eating chili and the best french fries on earth, washed down with hot chocolate, at the ski lodge. As our boys got older they would downhill ski on the small hill. We would go to the Lodge and swim in the indoor pool and sit in front of the massive fireplace. I would make chicken soup that would last for days. Evenings would be spent in front of the fire reading and playing board games.IMG_3809

Like Cape Town beauty was everywhere. But unlike the beaches this was a quiet, empty landscape. The snow was usually deep and clung to the trees. The trails that we skied on, wound under and around huge pines. Depending on the cold, the streams sparkled or froze in silver patterns. The three-sided rest huts welcomed us when we sat and rested. Even falling did not hurt because of the soft landing in the fluffy white stuff.IMG_3811

This is our eleventh Christmas in Carmel. Many people think that because it is California it is warm but the average temperature is only 65°. We have beautiful days like yesterday when the sky was blue, the wind calm and we walked along the rocks at Pacific Grove. Or we have days like today when we walked in a light rain along Carmel beach.IMG_0371

I am lucky over the years to have spent Christmas in three beautiful places. This is not my religious holiday but it is a universal holiday that we should all be lucky enough to enjoy. So, wherever you may be I wish you peace as the rain stops and the sun sets on Christmas Day 2012, in Carmel, CA.DSC_0047

This entry was posted in Personal Travel Essays, South Africa, Uncategorized, United States and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Towns of Christmas Past

  1. Becky King says:

    What beautiful, peaceful glimpses of your past holidays….Happy New Year! Bec

  2. Nancy Goldstein says:

    How lovely that you have been able to spend “Christmas” in such beautiful places. I enjoyed reading about how you spent your time.


    Sent from my iPad

  3. Ann,

    I appreciate this beautifully written reminder to find peace and goodwill amidst the beauty of nature and the joy of family gatherings. Jack and I look forward to sharing your company when you return to snowy MN.


  4. Susan Conrad says:

    Simply lovely Ann. We too spend so much time at Telemark, my husband has skied all the Birkies except for the first one, he’s now been named a Founder. And of course, you remember that we spent time in Cape Town and thought how beautiful a place that is. Carmel well I was only there for a day after summer session ended at Berkeley in 1966. I was also struck by its beauty.

    Love reading your journeys. Stay healthy, Susan

  5. Thanks for sharing your lovely memories with me, Ann. Such a rich life to share! For a few moments, I was in South Africa on the beaches with you, in a cabin in Telemark with your family and Carmel on the beach. A wonderful little vacation from my desk with a dear lady. Mary

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