I wonder how many of our readers know about International Children’s Day? In my experience, it has not been widely celebrated in South Africa, and a quick trawl through the internet has not revealed it to be otherwise. Any events seem to have been local and low-key. This commemorative day has a long history. It was proclaimed at the World Conference for the Wellbeing of Children in Geneva in 1925. So, yes, this year is its 95th anniversary. It is intended as a celebration of children, and different countries observe it on different days. In South Africa, it is on the first Saturday in November.
A SPECIAL DAY IN OUR FAMILY
When I was a child, it was always a special day in our family. Four of my cousins were pupils at the University of Cape Town Ballet School and their annual show was held on this day. My head is filled with vivid memories of the event. In the first place, the cousins’ status as pupils at this esteemed institution was awe-inspiring and set them apart from us ordinary mortals, especially at this time of the year.
“So, for three weeks or so leading up to THE DAY, my sister and I lived in a state of almost unbearable excitement.”
I remember the talk at the birthday parties leading up to THE DAY. The various dances they were rehearsing. What the mime gestures meant. Demonstrations of both dance and gestures. Favourite teachers and senior students they admired and who taught them. And choreographed the dances. Mysteries of stage makeup, including greasepaint! Huh? Hankering to dance on points. Costumes and head-dresses. And the dream realised by few – wearing a tutu! This chatter was totally exotic and fascinating to me, who was not part of their experiences. By the time of my sister’s birthday party mid-October, it had all reached fever pitch. The anticipation was red-hot. So, for three weeks or so leading up to THE DAY, my sister and I lived in a state of almost unbearable excitement.
FINALLY, IT DAWNED.
Our Christmas dresses from the previous year were our best wear for all special occasions. They hung on the outside of the wardrobe. We had polished our going-out shoes, and they stood ready with our best white, lacy socks tucked inside. Our hair ribbons to match our dresses were washed and ironed in readiness. Lunch was light and early as we had about an hour’s drive to the venue. Once we were dressed, we probably had our hair curled by being brushed around household candles. An easy task with our naturally curly hair. It was just a matter of fashioning beautiful, smooth, fat curls. Or maybe we wore our everyday plaits, I don’t remember for sure. Oh, we probably also had our little handbags, possibly white gloves too. Or maybe the gloves were only at Christmas…
“Stepping into the foyer with its mosaic-tiled floor and high ceiling gave me a feeling akin to being royalty.”
We travelled practically the whole length of the peninsula to reach the City Hall in Cape Town. Once the car was parked on the Parade opposite, we headed for the doors. The building is an imposing Victorian structure. It is not unlike a picture from a children’s storybook. There are lots of features outside, not least of which is the clock tower with its copy of Big Ben. Stepping into the foyer with its mosaic-tiled floor and high ceiling gave me a feeling akin to being royalty.
What always thrilled me most was the grandeur of the light marble staircase in the foyer and the one leading up to the balcony. The crystal chandeliers inside the auditorium were a close second. A source of great fascination were the semi-circular bays that projected from the side walls, especially if the mayor was in attendance. It did not matter how many times I saw all this, I was always agog.
“We were spellbound.”
We bought our programme and were ushered to our seats on the balcony. It was awesome (literally) to be up that high looking down at the red velvet curtains concealing the magic onstage. The five-minute bell. And before long, the lights went down and a hush fell on the audience. The music started, the curtains rose, and we were off into the world of grace, beauty and colour. And some laughs… We were spellbound. And remained that way for about two hours, apart from the reality interval. I could go on and on… But I must tell you about an extra-special Children’s Day.
THE FUN DID NOT END ALL AT ONCE.
You know how when you have been having a great time, you don’t want the fun to end? As a child, you did not want to go home or to bed. Well, one Children’s Day was on the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes’ Day. This was a commemoration of the day in British history when a treasonous plot by this man to blow up the Houses of Parliament was foiled. Even though my mum was a single parent, she always gave my sister and me as many special treats as she could. So, every year she bought us a box of fireworks to be let off on that day. It was the custom in Britain and the British colonies around the world. Well, we had a double treat that 5th of November.
We lived in a seaside village. As usual, once it was properly dark, she took us down to the beach to set off our fireworks together with half the children in the village. That was one night we were happy to go to bed. Tired out from all the excitement of the day and deeply contented with life.
While we may not be able to enjoy the children’s ballet 2020, we certainly CAN celebrate South Africa’s treasured children this International Children’s Day.
“Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.” Nelson Mandela
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GOOD THOUGHTS • GOOD WORDS • GOOD DEEDS