Cover girls share Christmas memories

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From Barbie dolls and bicycles to festive PJs and boere meisie dreams! Christmas and the holidays are so different for us all. We unwrap what some of our 2023 cover stars have asked Santa for, and how they’re ringing the New Year in.

Photo: Supplied

Jenna Challenor 

For running sensation Jenna, finding out that Santa Claus wasn’t real put a real damper on her drive up to Kloof to enjoy the Uncle Jumbo’s Christmas Show that she attended every year with family friends.

“I was genuinely devastated because I believed in everything and loved the magic of Christmas. I still do, and there are no favourites when it comes to my lifetime of Christmas’ because I’ve loved every single one. We’ve always had small, intimate Christmas gatherings because we are a very close family, and love to watch each other open presents and just be together.  It’s calm and special and very relaxed. Nothing over the top, just the way we like it.”

Jenna’s favourite gift prior to uncovering the truth about Santa was a doll she got from her aunt and uncle in America.

“I remember opening it like it was yesterday. I was seven.  I loved dolls and this one was big, it sang and talked and it was called Cricket.

Under the mistletoe, to the festive sounds of Bony M, Jenna’s dream rendezvous will always be with her best friend and husband, Brett.

“Now and every time I could. Every year we have a dinner on Christmas Eve. The kids and I set and decorate the table and Brett cooks up a feast which we enjoy while chatting about the past year and the year ahead. We pull crackers and take lots of photos. There’s no denying that I love the odd selfie too.”

Last year the Challenors went on their first family holiday overseas to Mauritius and Jenna says if she could do it all over again, it would definitely have to be over Christmas.

“Dinner around a beautiful table on the beach, under the stars, followed by a nighttime swim, early morning presents, a beautiful buffet breakfast and a fun-filled family day on the beach in the sunshine. This is what we love. We have just taken ownership of our beach cottage on the South Coast, left to me by my dad when he passed, so we’ll be spending the holidays down there in our happy place, living his legacy.”

When it comes to traditions, Jenna says New Year’s Eve is always spent reflecting, as a family. “We write down our short and long term goals for the following year, and something nice about every member of our family, which we take turns to read out. Afterwards, I put these notes into a special box which we don’t open again until the following New Year’s Eve, when we re-read to see what we have achieved, chat about it and set our new goals. I’ve loved doing this every year. It’s a good lesson for my children to see, that adversity makes us stronger.”

While she has no doubt her teens will want to spend the New Year partying with their friends this year, Jenna says she, Brett and her youngest, Tao, plan on a chilled bonfire on the beach roasting marshmallows, followed by dinner and an early night so they can wake up and start the New Year off the best way they know how – with a run!

“LOL this is likely not what most people would choose to do but we love it. After missing a year of running, all I ask for is my health and my running career back. It’s been a very hard year for me, and for my family who had to pick up the pieces and hold the fort while I was so sick. I am a professional athlete. It’s my job and my passion. I miss it so much, and I’m really hoping 2024 will be my comeback year, and a year filled with love and happiness and an opportunity for our family to follow a dream we have.”

Photo: Derryn Schmidt

Gaelyn Cokayne

Tenacious life coach and bariatric doula Gaelyn is all about Mariah Carey, feel-good Christmas films and meeting Channing Tatum under the mistletoe this year.

“I’m all for the Christmas cheese! I loved the school plays, still love the carols and I love the build up to the big day. We get advent calendars to open every day, I get my girls and I new Christmas PJ’s to wear on Christmas Eve, and we set out treats for Santa and the reindeers. We always enjoy Christmas themed cookies throughout December too. My favourite gifts as a kid were books. I’ve always loved reading and being able to spend my quiet time in the holidays lying on my bed reading a new book was such a treat. The only other thing I ever really wanted was a unicorn. I’m not even joking! I was a big believer and it was only when I was old enough to learn that they didn’t exist that I let go of my grudge against Santa.”

While her dream Christmas party would involve a sparkling pool with floaties, a spit braai, fun and games for the kids and adults to enjoy together, loads of laughter and special memories, and Durban music duo Veranda Panda bringing the day to a perfect end. Gaelyn is just as happy with a night away with her girls spent visiting her siblings and nieces.

“My brother and sister are coming out from overseas, and my entire family will be together for the first time in almost six years, so we’ll be spending a lot of time together at the beach, braaiing, swimming and reconnecting. Christmas day we always do a gammon, turkey, lamb, crispy roast potatoes, veggies and gravy. Dessert is traditional trifle and ice cream in cones for the kids. There will be more than 20 of us this year, so it will be a beautifully chaotic day! Boxing Day will be spent around the pool enjoying leftover gammon and turkey sarmies.”

Come the New Year, Gaelyn won’t be setting herself any ridiculous resolutions. She simply plans on building her business, being intentional about writing her book and finishing it by the end of the year.

“And I absolutely want to travel again! I want to enjoy more adventures and have more fun.”

Photo: Brendon Croft

Bianca Candido 

Channelling her inner boere meisie, Mrs South Africa 2023 semi-finalist Bianca is still hanging in for that one Christmas gift she always wanted but never quite got … a horse.

“A girl can always dream. Short of a horse, my favourite Christmas gift was a Barbie that came with seven different outfits, one for each day of the week. I absolutely loved it! I use to make my own Barbie clothes, so the new outfits doubled up as patterns for other items I made. This year, if the horse does not materialise – LOL – all I’d like from Father Christmas is a day off … a full spa-day with the works – champagne, sushi, chocolate fountains and a full body massage. I hope my husband reads this, hint hint!”

For Bianca, the lead up to Christmas is all about taking in all the Christmas lights and decorations setup in town.

“This has been a family tradition for years, and although the displays are not what it used to be, we still take that drive every year. We also drive through different suburbs looking for extreme home decorations. We are those people you see driving slowly past your house, with our kids hanging out the window to get a better view of your decorations. The Durban Botanical Gardens Trail of Lights has very much become part of our traditions now as well. Of course, our main tradition is our feast on Christmas day. We all wake up together, open presents, attend church and then head home for that mouth-watering family lunch with must haves like Peppermint Crisp tart, Cremora tart and leg of lamb!”

Bianca’s favourite Christmas was her first Christmas as a mom.

“There is nothing better than experiencing the excitement of Christmas through your child. It’s overwhelming and heart-warming. Since then we’ve had some really great Christmas day celebrations, coupled with one or two embarrassing ones which I’m not quite ready to divulge yet. What I would really love to experience one day as a family is a white Christmas. There is something so magical about the idea of it alone.”

New Year’s Eve is a little more laid back says Bianca, as they usually get together at her sister’s house for a braai.

“Although they are repetitive, my goals for the New Year are to stick to my diet and exercise routine. I love food so much, that it’s the one resolution I just cannot keep. In 2024 I also want to aggressively pursue my entrepreneurial endeavours, and focus all my efforts on our family business to make sure that it is a great success.”

Photo:  Tilanie Grote

Candice King

Neuroscience and emotional intelligence coach Candice grew up in a family of off-road motor bikers, so her absolute favourite present was the 50cc motocross bike she got when she was seven.

“I loved Christmas. I was always an angel in school Christmas plays and we were fortunate growing up. We had something called a ‘greedy list’ and my parents would select gifts from there with a few surprises thrown in and we truly believed these were from Santa, so when one of the children in my class turned to me on December breakup day and told me Father Christmas wasn’t real, I got all prickly and couldn’t breathe. I was devastated.”

Since then, the roles have changed and Candice finds great delight in making sure her children get to experience the same special festive feeling by passing on some of the traditions from her younger days.

“Christmas for us is about carols echoing through the house, especially the night before. Christmas morning it’s a glass of sherry with a mince pie – in-law’s tradition – which I absolutely love. It’s really about spending the day with family which is most important for me, but with one requirement – that someone else does the catering and cleaning for a change, so I can lounge in my pool with a holiday cocktail.”

Candice’s most memorable Christmas was in 2021, when her daughter brought Covid home on December 23.

“I was so excited to have my family over but it wasn’t to be. Instead, we had an isolated Christmas. Once I got over it, I made it my mission to ensure we still had a special day and made us a lovely lunch. I carved the meat and went outside to call the family only to return to the kitchen to find our rescue dog slash counter surfer licking her lips. She’d pulled the gammon off the counter and literally inhaled it. I ran after her flinging my slops in the air while my husband and children pulled their shirts over their faces because they were laughing so hard. It’s a story that gets told often, with belly-aching laughs.”

This year in the King-household, Christmas will be spent chilling with family, followed by an adventure to their favourite escape, Clarens.

“My family likes to feed people, and everybody brings something, so there will definitely be no shortage of food. For New Year’s we like to stay at home, have a braai and celebrate the together as our little family unit. New Year’s Day is our party day spent around the pool with our close friends and their families.”

As a breast cancer survivor, Candice’s biggest hope for the year ahead is good health. For the rest she’ll be focussing on her journey of self-growth and development and embracing the growth of her coaching and yoga businesses.

Photo: Mbali Mpofu

Ayanda Njilo

For attorney turned businesswoman, Ayanda’s Christmas as a kid was about the clothes.

“Santa was never really glorified at home. He was someone I knew from TV movies and commercials, and I always knew the gifts were from my grandmother and my aunts. This never bothered me at all. Every year at Christmas, we would be gifted clothes, among other things, and I lived for unwrapping these and deciding what I was going to wear on the day. I always wanted a bicycle, but because we lived in a township, on a main road, my mother felt it was not safe for me to ride. So I had to play with my dolls, which I didn’t mind because I am a girlie-girl at heart.”

As an adult, Ayanda says the essence of Christmas has become more about the birth of Christ.

“I find no better way to celebrate that His birth than surrounding myself with the people I love the most, my family. We’ve shared Christmas together during the best and worst times. Growing up I loved being on stage, as we re-enacted the story of Jesus Christ, and I loved singing Christmas carols. My favourite is Away in a Manger because it reminds me of how great destinies can be born from obscure surroundings. Jesus was born in a manger and there was no crib for a bed. Yet he went on to become the greatest Christian leader. I love the essence of the story because it essentially means that no matter where you come from you can grow up to become great. Being a mom now, I watch, with such pride, as my kids practise their Christmas play lines and carols. It takes me back to my youth and I absolutely love it.”

With traditions like carols on Christmas Eve, and a special family gathering for lunch on Christmas Day, Ayanda shamefully admits that without her mother, there would be no Christmas.

“She cooks all my Christmas meals, but this is her gift. We travel to the farm where she lives, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and she spoils us with her fabulous fare. It really is a special time for us all. Something I would love to do additionally over the holidays is to throw a Christmas party for kids and families who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Host it in a stadium, set the scene with big Christmas trees, have numerous Santa’s handing out food, gifts and clothes, and have South African artists performing on stage to create the perfect festive atmosphere for everyone.”

New Year’s Eve for Ayanda is best spent with her husband Phumlani and their friends.

“I’m really looking forward to closing off 2023 on a happy and positive note. This year, I took on some new studies; so much of my time was spent in business school. I can’t wait to get into 2024 and to start implementing what I have learned, in making my business a success.  That aside, all I can ask for in the year ahead is a refreshed soul and good health, which includes a six-pack! I’ve learnt though, to surrender my dreams to God. So I’m excited to see the unfolding of His plans.

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