Musings and memories

The way we were – Traditions

View of Table Mountain

Ramadhan, Eid, Easter and Christmas; there are many shared traditions and customs that exist in the communities of the Cape Flats despite diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

Easter and Ramadhan are approaching and I am reminded that in Cape Town, feast days for the communities who practiced their religions, are also days of sharing with their relatives, friends and neighbours of other faiths.

With Easter approaching, I have been thinking about the many meals we enjoyed at the homes of my Aunts on Good Friday including Cape Malay Pickled Fish and hot cross buns, Mummy Rachel’s tuna tart and fish cakes, Aunty Betty’s fish pie, Aunty Norma’s seafood paella. You can read the story behind Cape Malay pickled fish and find my recipe here.

On Easter Sunday the lunch feast included roast leg or shoulder of lamb; Aunty Josie’s crumbed lamb chops and steak and kidney pie; roast or chutney chicken; chicken or lamb curry; Mummy Rachel’s chocolate cake and cheesecake. Every now and then a new addition to the family would surprise us with something different.

During the celebration days of Christmas and Easter, we joined our Christian relatives to share meals and give gifts. Although not our religious festivals, we never felt excluded when they exchanged gifts. I often wondered about that, and realized that that was how my mother and her siblings were raised. Kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity were not limited to certain people at specific times of the year. They all had children, so every child was included. Even now my cousins still buy gifts for my nephews and nieces despite the fact that the family Christmas get together has all but disappeared.

My father who loved a bargain, could never resist buying Easter eggs, especially if they were marked down on Easter Sunday or Monday. It didn’t matter that we don’t celebrate Easter. My mother’s family does, so he would go out and ensure that every child received a special Easter egg. I must admit, I never liked the taste of Easter eggs and the fact that they were empty shells. I was ecstatic when we were older and my aunts started giving us Cadbury chocolate bars instead!

Cape Malay Pickled Fish

As observant Muslims we partake of the month of fasting during Ramadhan. Ramadhan tradition was that wives, mothers and daughters (and occasionally menfolk) prepare sweet and savory snacks and send the children out to deliver plates of these little treats to the neighbours before the time for Iftar (breaking the fast). The men of the house who attend mosque for the prayers carry parcels of the same treats to share with the other worshippers. The iftar snacks often included Daltjies, Cape Malay Pancakes with coconut and Bollas.

To mark the middle of Ramadhan they also send out jugs of steaming Boeber made with vermicelli or lokshen, milk, sago; spiced with cinnamon and cardamom and sweetened with sugar and condensed milk. In Dubai where expatriate neighbors hardly see each other and seldom even know each other’s names, this tradition is sorely missed.

During the festival days of Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha, the doors are open for all to convey their congratulations for the completion of the mandatory fasting and commemoration of Hajj, respectively. The children of the neighbourhood  are welcomed with cookies, chocolates and little gifts of money. Families pay their respects and share meals with their neighbours and friends, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Over the years I have come to realize how intolerant we have become as a people in the name of cultural or religious beliefs and practices. I was raised by kind, generous parents who encouraged the building of goodwill in the community without compromising our beliefs.

Do you have any local customs or traditions for the holidays? Please share them with us in the comments.

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This was first published on 27 March 2015 and has since been updated.

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33 Comments

  • Reply
    Tiffany
    April 24, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    It’s so beautiful to see the traditions from other cultures. I’m from Guyana and my family have been practicing many traditions, but since I’ve ventured off on my own things changed lol.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 24, 2018 at 6:16 pm

      Same here. I’ve lived abroad for nearly 12 yrs now and the longer I’m away the more I miss those traditions and the more I realize how they are not being kept by the younger generations.

  • Reply
    Komal
    April 11, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    I love pickled fish. I had no idea that it was traditional. In my culture we don’t celebrate but is cool seeing other.

  • Reply
    Zehra
    April 11, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Traditions are a beautiful thing. Our family doesnt do any religious practices but I think its really important to cherish the beautiful cultures and rites we all have. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply
    Blair Villanueva
    April 6, 2018 at 6:34 am

    Living in the Philippines is also fun because of many holidays that we celebrate. We celebrate Christmases, Easters, two New Years (that includes the Chinese New Year), major Muslim holidays, etc. We follow it because it is a celebration of the community and its our time to bond with family and friends, regardless of race, cultures and traditions.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 10, 2018 at 5:18 pm

      I didn’t know you also celebrate the Chinese New Year!

  • Reply
    David Allen Elliott
    April 5, 2018 at 9:33 am

    I know that we have some family customs. But I don’t know that we have any real cultural ones. We just love food and conversation. That is about what most family moments are about for us.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:26 pm

      I wonder if we end up eating more or talking me at the family get togethers 🙂

  • Reply
    Renata Green - www.byemyself.com
    April 5, 2018 at 1:32 am

    Yes, it’s true, the traditional or religious celebrations should rather bring us together than divide us. Why not just participate in a celebration for the joy and warmth of it?! Your dad would be thrilled now, two days after Easter, when all this pricey stuff is marked down to ridiculous amounts 😉

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:25 pm

      Oh my Gosh Renata, you have no idea! He would literally scan the papers to check which store was having the best eggs and would get more excited about all his potential purchased than we did. He had excellent taste and always bought exactly the right ones for every cousin and aunt.

  • Reply
    Elle (Cleverly Changing)
    April 4, 2018 at 12:06 am

    Keeping up with family traditions is so important and helps preserve one’s culture. I love that you and your family are staying true to your traditions.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:23 pm

      One tradition I have woefully failed to keep up since my mother’s death has been Eid lunch or dinner at our house for the family. I couldn’t bring myself to cook and bake in her kitchen or entertain a crowd and not have her sitting there in her big armchair.

  • Reply
    emma white
    April 3, 2018 at 11:54 pm

    I have to say we don’t have special meals or do anything different for Easter other than buy chocolate eggs and attend various arts and craft days and not forgetting the local Easter egg hunt

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:21 pm

      As a child I was fascinated by stories I read of Easter egg hunts but I don’t recall that there was every something like that in our areas. My aunts didn’t make us look for them, we literally got them on a platter 🙂

  • Reply
    Akamatra
    April 3, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    It’s a nice thing to be able to follow a tradition or more. We celebrate Easter the traditional way here with lots of family (and food, lol!)

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:19 pm

      It just doesn’t seem the same without a house full of people does it!

  • Reply
    London Mumma
    April 3, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    I love that you all embrace others cultures and beliefs, this does really make me proud. You can not beat a good tradition.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      In all my life my parents never ill treated or dismissed someone because their faith or belief was different to ours. My dad was one of the most compassionate and empathetic people I knew, and even when relatives or strangers behaved badly he would give them the benefit of the doubt. His words were ‘you cannot judge someone until you have walked in their shoes’.

  • Reply
    Cristina
    April 3, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    This food looks so delicious, I love that you have such a welcoming family! I might have to pop over for chocolate cake 😉

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:14 pm

      Haha thank you Cristina! You are most welcome to stop by for chocolate cake as we have quite a few excellent recipes in the family, aside from the one I love.

  • Reply
    Dalene
    April 3, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Traditions are at most times what dictate the practices of many. And when it comes to festives, they sure do. We especially like celebrating with great meals , just as it was during Easter!

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 5, 2018 at 9:12 pm

      True! Some of my best memories are celebrations around food 🙂

  • Reply
    Alison Rost
    April 3, 2018 at 7:13 am

    It’s usually just me and my husband but whenever the kids decide to visit we often prepare their favorite dishes. Regardless if there are people coming over or not, I make dishes that I’ve enjoyed when I was younger, family recipes that we’ve kept and recreated throughout the years!

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 3, 2018 at 8:52 am

      The daunting task for me has been to document our family recipes since all but one of my mother’s sisters and one of my father’s sisters have passed. All I have to remember the recipes by is the memory of what their dishes tasted like when I was younger. For the most part I have been able to replicate the flavors and add my own nuances, but I still have a long way to go.

  • Reply
    Clarice Lao | Camping for Women
    April 3, 2018 at 6:09 am

    I applaud you and your family for respecting other people’s belief. Thank you! I have seen how intolerant others are because the others are different. It was very hard.

    Also, I would like to thank you for sharing this post. It is very interesting to know more other beliefs and practices.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 3, 2018 at 8:49 am

      I have lived away from my family for many years now and the only way to keep the traditions alive for myself is to document them and share them with others. I loved spending the holidays with my relatives and it was a great bonding experience for us as a family. My parents taught us to be respectful of others and to learn about what makes us different, instead of rejecting the differences.

  • Reply
    sam
    April 3, 2018 at 3:52 am

    I love your story of the tradition of the women folk and how they prepare sweet and savoury snacks to send out. These traditions are so demonstrative of the close network and community you have, it’s lovey to read about. I don’t have any traditions myself, just spending time with family and my husband.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 3, 2018 at 8:46 am

      Sadly, over the years many of the traditions have started to fall away because the younger generations have embraced the rat race and no longer have the ties to their communities that their parents and grandparents had.

  • Reply
    Mary Burris
    April 2, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    I don’t have any traditions for the holiday. But is was nice to have a friend come over and share a meal. Perhaps I should think about starting a tradition.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      April 2, 2018 at 10:58 pm

      Sharing a meal with your friend is a good start to a tradition!

  • Reply
    Razena
    March 29, 2015 at 9:52 am

    This year will be one of many firsts :'(

    I only made pickled fish once while Mummy was alive and she was on the phone with me while I was making it.

    I called Katriena to find out how to do it as I could not remember all the steps. Now to find the right type of fish at a supermarket here in shaa ALLAH!

  • Reply
    Rashiek Schroeder
    March 29, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Wow….this post brought back so many memories…it will be the 1st year that i dont get my special pickled fish…

    I remember watching movies on Good Friday and the street tennis and cricket in the yard over the Easter weekend…

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