I was away on a trip to the Okavango Delta for the first two nights of Hanukkah. I was sad to miss them but decided that a once-in-a-lifetime trip with a couple dozen of my friends was well worth it so I headed north.
Early in the morning on day three of Hanukkah, I began the trek homeward. My boyfriend picked me up from an arbitrary bus stop along the way and seemed giddy beyond what would be normal for seeing me (not that I complained). We had agreed to celebrate Hanukkah together (his first ever!) but I assumed my Humanist boyfriend could not be harboring such excitement over Hanukkah... could he? The answer is YES. Whole-heartedly yes.
When we got home, he rushed to the tree (yes, we had a Christmas tree) and pulled out some presents. He was basically jumping up and down. His excitement made me boil over too. Then I looked at the presents and saw little hand-written cards with quotes and riddles on them and with little pictures in the upper corner of a menorah with lit candles that corresponded to the day. This first present was from the first night of Hanukkah (one lit candle) and the one beneath it the second (two candles). He then told me that he learned the prayers and lit candles for us for the two nights that I had missed. I was speechless. All my words were replaced with feelings of love and surprise. How adorable of a man is he?! I kept thinking. I hugged him and hugged him and couldn't stop smiling. My boyfriend celebrated Hanukkah even in my absence and he went a thousand extra miles to make sure this year's was sweet and special, just like him.
For the next six nights, we lit candles together and opened presents - each one better than the next. I saved his cards and re-read them every day. I taught him a little about the holiday and he practiced the prayers until he got them just right (even my dad's prayer). I hadn't expected this. It was the most precious thing and one of my favorite Hanukkah's to date.
On the last night of Hanukkah, my boyfriend, his sister, and I jumped into the car and drove three hours south to Rustenburg, South Africa for some high-intensity Christmas shopping, some McDonalds, and to watch The Hobbit in 3D. It was a ridiculous roadtrip but extremely entertaining all the while. We had a lot of laughs and missions were definitely accomplished. The car came home packed to the brim with gifts and our tummies with cheeseburgers.
And, finally, the time came for the Christmas holiday. We had planned to go to Mozambique for Christmas and New Years but had a change of heart and decided to spend the holidays with my boyfriend's family in his home village of Mahalapye. This was the first Christmas he would spend with his family since 2008, made even more special because his father would be coming from Malaysia (where he and his wife, my boyfriend's stepmom, live). There would be many of us there to celebrate and I was promised lots of food, fun, and family. I was definitely not disappointed!
We were greeted by my boyfriend's mom, dad (stepdad), sister, sister's boyfriend, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a farm-full of animals. It felt like a homecoming of sorts - encapsulated by excitement and enthusiasm and a little joyful nervousness. We spent the evening decorating the Christmas tree, baking, and finishing wrapping presents. There was a penetrable warmth to it (and not just because it was so so hot out).
The following days were spent doing so many fun things with my boyfriend and his family. Of the highlights were hiking a hill overlooking the village and seeing volcanic rock, gathering pottery pieces from spring hare holes, hunting for quartz crystals with my Indiana Jones-like boyfriend, and playing with the animals on the farm (especially feeding the pigs!). Here are some photographs of the fun:
And, of course, there was Christmas day with the family. Opening presents, particularly watching the faces of the two youngest (Thalia and Learnmore) light up with every gift they received. It was magical and brought me back to a time when I was also as excited about a nerd candy rope. Not going to lie, it's a beautiful place to find yourself. Christmas day also included more food than any one person could possibly eat (including an entire table of savory snacks and a table of treats that held cookies I helped decorate and the traditional Christmas Cake that my boyfriend and I were prized with adorning this year).
It was a wonderful month-long holiday spectacular. Truly, honestly, and really. It contained all the key components of the most magical of holidays. It had joy and surprise and fun and adventure and love and family. I am so grateful to this amazing man in my life for orchestrating it and for making the season just a little happier, especially since I had to spend it so far from home. (But at least I got to chat with my mom and sister ample times throughout the holiday! YAY!) And, if I'm being candid, it was one of the first fully happy Christmas season I've had since losing my dad. For that, I'm eternally grateful. Once again, hooray for happy holidays!