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A family Christmas

After rather an arduous year for many, it is finally time to deck the halls and prepare for Christmas. We catch up with the Breytenbachs – Johan, Ronel, André and Charl – to find out each one’s take on the festivities, and what it means to this Mbombela family to celebrate together.

“Christmas with the Rooikatte is quite a busy time. Arriving home after work, we firmly believe in quality over quantity time with our loved ones, and have come to accept that while others are on holiday, we are still on the go – this is simply the nature of our industry. Having said that, when we do get together, it’s quite an event,” says Johan.

On December 24, despite being quite worn out, the family usually meet at one of their respective homes and are greeted by little ones who are anxiously awaiting their presents. “We build on their excitement by first getting into the tune of the festivities by singing a few Christmas songs. In between we’re snacking on the finger foods my mother and our wives have prepared. The favourite among these is my mother Saartjie’s secret mustard sauce served with beef tongue (a national champion). One of the brothers usually takes on the role of Santa Claus, complete with a bell and a bag full of presents swung over his shoulder. From here on, our main focus is spending time with the kids and sharing the meaning of Christmas with them.”

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Having a business in the liquor industry that all the Breytenbachs are involved in means that they have to go the extra mile to ensure they have quality family time. “Due to long work hours, the amount of free time we have for this is limited”, says Ronel. “We remain a family that values tradition, such as sharing meals and enjoying one another’s company when we can. When we as the Agenbags get together, quality time with our children is a priority. With the kids no longer being little and the youngest completing matric this year, we enjoy spending time together on the stoep or cooling down in the pool.” During these get-togethers, the deboned chicken flatties Ronel’s husband, Gerrie braais are an all-time favourite, “they are extra juicy!” she laughs.

Served with salads and her mother Saartjie’s hit recipe from her trusted recipe book, malva pudding and ice cream, the meal is always memorable. Not forgetting the liquid refreshment, the children love to experiment with cocktails. “They are so eager for us to try out their new concoctions” she smiles, “but our go-to is still an ice-cold strawberry daiquiri. When Gerrie and I are by ourselves, we explore the neighbouring towns on the Harley-Davidson. We enjoy travelling and discovering new scenery. Playing golf together is another favourite, which ensures that we truly appreciate and enjoy the free time we have together.”

STRAWBERRY DAIQUIRI:

Ingredients:

One cup of frozen strawberries
4 blocks of ice
½ cup of sugar
½ cup of lemon juice
¼ cup Lemon Twist
¾ cup Bacardi Rum.

Instructions:

Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Here is the secret: serve it in a classy cocktail glass with a straw and a few fresh strawberries. Delicious!

The family firmly believe that Christmas is a time for connecting, and getting together, a celebration with family and friends. “Our philosophy is to keep it simple, but also welcoming, with a touch of elegance. We decorate the table in a minimalist style and make a big deal about the Christmas tree! The kids normally decorate it at the beginning of December with everything that we have collected over the years,” smiles Cora, Charl’s wife. Each member always puts something special on the tree, something that is significant to them, and fairy lights are a must, inside and outside. “Oh yes, and we love popping Christmas crackers! We don’t always sit down to a full-on home-cooked Christmas lunch or dinner, we like to serve all kinds of snacks (warm and cold) with a variety of wine (white and red) and champagne. Non-alcoholic champagne for the children is always something they look forward to and enjoy!”

Snacks are also always a winner. They love to make new things for the Christmas table, normally everyone brings something that they’ve made and love to eat and share. “Then, we end the festivities off with different kinds of nice, snacky deserts. After a hectic December 24 at Rooikat, it is always nice to relax on Christmas Day and enjoy it with loved ones. I love to see the kids’ faces during this time, their eyes light up with joy when they see the table filled with festive goodies; how excited they are to celebrate. It is a tradition that the story of Jesus Christ’s birth is told. We all gather together around the tree while one of the family members reads the story, and afterwards, we sing Christmas songs. The gifts of time and love are the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas!”

The festive season and especially Christmas Day, are significant for three reasons when it comes to the Britz family, André’s in-laws. “From a spiritual point of view, of course, it is of great import,” he says. Christmas Day and the days leading up to it are spent together, remembering the significance of the holidays. “In such a fast-paced and commercial world, we need to show the respect and honour that is due,” André says. “Then there is the fact that being in a family business means that Christmas Day falls under the two busiest weeks of the year for us, but this time also gives dad a chance to take a breather – even if it is just for one day,” he laughs.

The third reason is the opportunity to spend the day with the rest of the family. “Christmas Eve was always such a treat for the children as they got to see Santa Claus (usually the brother whose figure most resembles that of the old man himself ), who, dressed in the traditional red North Pole clothing, had the task of telling the youngsters how well behaved they were and handing out gifts. I made sure I ate healthily throughout the year so as not to be assigned the task. Now that the kids have grown up, there is much less pressure!”

The family’s Christmas feast is distinctive to the Afrikaner culture, complete with beer bread, home-made ginger beer and cold beef tongue served with Ouma’s famous mustard sauce. And in true festive fashion, this is accompanied by lots of laughter, stories and masses of Christmas spirit.

MA SAARTJIE’S GINGER BEER

Ingredients:

5L warm water (not hot)
4 cups of sugar
2 tsp ginger
1,5 tsp cream of tartar
1,5 tsp tartaric acid
1,5 to 2x 10g sourdough
A handful of raisins.

Instructions:

Pour the sugar into the water and once it has dissolved, add the rest of the ingredients. Leave it to stand overnight.
Drain the mixture using a cheesecloth. Bottle and enjoy chilled!

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