Steve on Sunday
20 December 2020
Greetings my fellow stressed holidaymakers
I do wish all of you and your families a very Merry Christmas no matter what you are doing or where you are staying. There have been many who have cancelled their annual break to the seaside because of the closure of the beaches, and this surely can only damage the tourism industry even more. While there are no doubt health reasons in connection with the plague it does seen rather strange about the effectiveness of totally closing certain areas in the eastern and western cape, while other regions only have closures only on public holidays.
There is most certainly a rub on effect of the beach closures – I had two half day Kimberley tours cancelled because the passing through visitors were no longer heading to their seaside destination. Quite pointless going to sit and stare at the inside of your chalet or caravan for ten days or so.
Anyway, those of us who are staying at home, we’re in for nice quiet Christmas if all the rules and regulations are followed, which I am sure they will be as we are a law abiding nation. Yeah, right.
I thought today to give you a glimpse of Christmas day in the heat of Kimberley a century ago, the one story from Kimberley under siege from the Republican Boers in 1899, and the other twenty years later, a year after the devastating Spanish Flu had created havoc.
Christmas Day 1899.
Queen Victoria sent a message to the besieged within Kimberley on Christmas Day.
“I wish you and all my brave soldiers a happy Christmas. God protect and bless you all.”
Sir Alfred Milner also sent a message wishing “good luck” to the besieged.
Christmas Day was also the day Cecil Rhodes gave permission to the American George Labram to begin construction of the famed Long Cecil gun.
From the Siege of Kimberley diary of Katharine Muriel Green, the wife of Diamond Fields Advertiser editor George Green, and mother of well-known writer Lawrence Green, who, incidentally, was born during the siege:
“We have had a famous Christmas dinner; the piece de resistance was the dear old fowl who laid me an egg almost daily for six weeks. For the last three weeks we have kept her in the kitchen, as thieves are not unknown in this neighbourhood. Once she escaped and ran fluttering and clucking down the road with the whole household in pursuit. She was captured by a swift-footed little coloured boy who almost sat upon her in his anxiety to keep her fast. Our anxiety as we saw our Christmas dinner first disappearing and then being squashed can be imagined! Well she stewed and stewed and was served with a few priceless potatoes my husband secured from his Greek friend. A bottle of preserved gooseberries from the same friend, but minus cream and sugar, so a little sour. However, some long treasured almonds and raisins and a tin of delicious figs preserved in wine, I think, dark and very sweet, made up for the gooseberries. When I tell you that for supper we had a fresh egg each, with bread and jam and cold sago pudding, you will see that even in a siege we kept the good old English custom of having the best of everything procurable on Christmas Day.
“We kept our solitary bottle of champagne in our water jug until evening and about 9 o’clock, when the weather was slightly cooler, we invited our landlady, her husband and sister to come and help us drink it, and with biscuits, figs and nuts we had quite a little feast and were all cheerful, wished each other a Happy New Year, and drank the toasts of “Absent Friends” and “Lord Methuen and the relief column”. As there was not enough champagne to go around a second time, our toasts were limited to these two.
So ended the most curious Christmas Day that any of us, I think, ever spent.”
Christmas Day 1919.
On this day in Kimberley the citizens were still struggling to come to terms with the horrific Spanish Flu epidemic that took so many lives in October and November a year before (1918). Many of the families were also in mourning for their loved ones who had been killed or died on active service during the Great War that had only ended on 11 November 1918.
The Diamond Fields Advertiser reported: “Last year Christmas Eve was held with peace restored – but there was something lacking. The Kimberley boys had not yet returned from the scenes of their gallantry, and the thoughts of most were turned towards them. This year the celebration approximated more to the old-fashioned Christmas Eve and Day, now that the absent had returned. One of the finest festivals of the whole year – indeed the finest – had arrived, and everyone was desirous to welcome it with shout – or smile – in the absence of choirs and brass bands whose Christmas carols are such a gladdening feature in other parts.
“Needless to say, lungs failed the occasion, and consequently resort had to be made to artificial aids. These were of the rattle and trumpet type mainly; they were not very pleasing to the ear, but they produced the required result, which was to make a great noise of welcome. Other features, such as confetti, were introduced to add to the rejoicing, and with laughter and merriment the wilkin was made to ring. The shops were bright and attractive, though the toys beloved by the children were less numerous and more costly than in days gone by, but all appeared ready to adapt themselves to the new times, and to meet with cheerful countenance the joyous festival.”
It was very hot – is it ever not? The temperature was 46.6 degrees Celcius in the sun and 32 degrees C in the shade. The ice merchants must have made a fortune! There had been no rain and none had been forecast. There is no doubt that Father Christmas and his reindeer had suffered dehydration problems.
The then daily newspaper the Diamond Fields Advertiser – published Monday to Saturday – would have a Christmas Day edition but not on Boxing Day (Friday 26th December), and unlike today, would publish throughout the week that followed including on New Year’s Day. The Swiss Café was still advertising a “…seasonable and acceptable present but not too costly” – their Home-made chocolates in fancy glove and handkerchief boxes
The Kimberley City Council would only close their offices on Christmas Day, Boxing Day as well as from 1 to 3 January 1920. The Market on the Square would also close on the above days.
All hotels would be open and all had advertised Christmas Day menus for several weeks.
On Christmas Eve Herr (Mr) Rybnikar’s band rendered an attractive musical programme for two hours at the Alexandersfontein Hotel. Extra tram cars had been laid on to the hotel.
The cinema too would be open on Christmas Day. The Olympia had the silent movie “The Parisian Tigress” starring Viola Dana, while the Trocadero featured “A Soul’s Crucifixion” starring Violet Hopson and Basil Gill. The Empire in Beaconsfield would be showing Fannie Ward in the 1916 six-reel story of South Africa titled “The Years of the Locust”.
The De Beer’s swimming bath on Warren Street would also be open on Christmas Day. Assuredly at nearly 47 degrees celcius, it would have been visited by many.
But it was still hot, very hot…
There is no doubt it will be hot again this Christmas of 2020 no matter what the medical specialists tell us. And still that fat chap in red clothes who carries a white beard and big sack will be travelling in the region, he and his reindeer somehow surviving the dehydration they are sure to encounter.
He better bring me a decent present.
Have a good Christmas.
I thank you.