Let me tell you a story about my mother and why we always celebrated Christmas in January.
My mother is one of the wisest people I know. The woman is an entrepreneur of note. She started her career working extremely hard as a domestic worker in Johannesburg suburbs. Through her enterprising spirit, she managed to educate me by sending me to private school using income from her vegetable stall. She paid for my Actuarial Science degree in the most trying of circumstances while also trying to build her restaurant business. This lovely woman was and still remains my role model.
When we were growing up, my family always celebrated Christmas in January. For good reason! The only thing we would do on Christmas day was to attend church in the morning and maybe have a nice meal – nothing extravagant. See, my mom did this for two reasons:
- She chose to work throughout December. By doing this, she made enough money to pay for our education with Christmas Day being the busiest day
- She did Christmas shopping in January when everything was on sale and ridiculously cheap.
Working in December
I remember working very hard on most Christmas days – selling vegetables in the street corner! Most people would look down upon such a business but we made enough money to pay for fees and other expenses for the following year. December itself was always a very busy period with bonus-driven spending. To teach us good values, Mom would even pay us salaries of up to R1,500 for working over school holidays – a fortune to my young self!
In all this busyness, there was no time to join in the December festivities, save for lunch or supper on Christmas day. As an entrepreneur, my mother easily saw the value of working on days that most people would find very difficult. To her, sacrificing Christmas Day to make sure that our fees would be sorted for the following year was a no-brainer.
Rewards in January
Mom always avoided shopping for new clothes in December. Besides being focused on work, she realized that most desirable things were very expensive in the festive season. We would watch all the other kids on the block in their new clothes while we rocked our worn-out everyday clothes. Mom would then pounce on shops during their January sales. It worked every year, like a charm! We would end up getting more clothes for less and consequently save some money.
This level of discipline wasn’t easy at first but I understood the rationale as we grew older. The principles I learnt at that time shaped how I think and who I am. A particularly important principle was that of delayed gratification. The ability to delay rewards taught me to study on a Friday afternoon when most people would prefer to take a rest. It taught me to go to university at least 2 weeks before everyone else and start studying for the coming semester. As a result, I managed to qualify for the Actuarial Science honours program. I would later on qualify as one of the few fully qualified Actuaries in the world.
My mother’s sacrifices not only gave me an education, but they also gave me the wisdom to maximize all opportunities brought before me. I did not always enjoy having to wait until January to get Christmas goodies but if I were to do it all over again I would do so in a heartbeat.
On this mother's day, I am grateful to have been raised by this amazing woman. Happy mother's day to her and to all mothers out there.