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By Cheryl Mayoss

In Africa we celebrate Christmas a little differently from those across the seas. For one thing, we sweat -- profusely. There is no snow, no sleet, no warm fires alongside the decorated trees -- just a glorious summer of sun. And our Santas wear a speedo not a red suit.

But what we do share with the rest of the world is the season of goodwill and cheer and nothing was more evident of that than the special Christmas I was lucky enough to have two years ago.

That particular year the countdown was as exciting as always. Shopping malls were crammed with decorations, the draped tinsel glistened from ceilings, evergreen trees studded with little Christmas stockings and angels stood tall and proud and shops bustled with activity as everyone rushed to buy their last presents and preparations.

Traditionally, our family only decorates the tree on Christmas Eve. It's a special time when we all get together, open the small ornaments and place them ceremoniously on the branches and the children gather round and shout when the lights are lit and our tree comes to life.

After three or four hours I gave up trying to find decorations. Each store was sold out, so I went home -- upset and mad with myself. I was ready to break the news to my children that there would be no tree this year.

At home, I found a parcel on my front step, inside were eight rectangular boxes wrapped in colorful paper. The note attached said it was from my French neighbor, wishing my family a good Christmas and instructing us not to open the presents until the proper time later that evening.

So, hours later, in front of everyone gathered, I opened the presents. Each parcel contained a wooden box filled with three rows of exquisite hand made ornaments, each one original and hand painted. There were angels and reindeer, mistletoe and ribbons, Christmas stockings and crackers, sleighs and presents -- even little Santa faces.

Silk strands were woven through from which to hang them on the tree. They were beautiful beyond words, each magnificent, she had unselfishly given me her whole collection. Each one had obviously taken hours to complete and she had given me so many. I reflected then on our friendship and realized how lucky I was.

Our tradition marched on that evening, each one of us selecting an item and placing it on the tree carefully whilst soft carols played in the background. It was a Christmas Eve we'll never forget, the tree glowed with pride. I have thanked my neighbor several times since then, she simply shrugs her shoulders and says it's a pleasure. And the ornaments, well I packed them away and last year we used them again, and yes, we did stare in awe as each was taken out, they are just so colorfully beautiful with such intricate detail that you cannot help but gasp aloud at each one.
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