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Christmas memories, the seeds of hope

Published: 
Saturday, December 26, 2015

It’s that time of year again! Yes, I am about to wallow indulgently in saccharine memories of Christmases past. 

Because the present can scarcely compete with the days of yuletide yore, I occasionally drift away while I ought to be working, playing over in my mind heart-warming vignettes from my mental Christmas archive. 

This year, at least for me, it has been particularly difficult to sniff out the Christmas spirit in the air. 

Aside from the usual particulates, it just isn’t there for me.

Even in the online world, Christmas seems very much a low-key affair. Facebook pyongs apt to sharing the minutiae of their lives are either holding back on their avalanche of dreadful Christmas tree pics taken in terrible lighting, or they just aren’t feelin’ it this year. 

By now there should be inescapable inundation, a torrent of blurry pictures of toddlers and cats in Santa hats. 

I could be misreading the atmosphere, but it seemed easier in the past to divine the season’s vibes. The Christmas of my youth permeated everything and everyone with a sense of renewed hope, even an undercurrent of happiness. 

Christmas to me meant total immersion in all that was on offer. So much so that as a child, I longed to go to midnight mass. I couldn’t be convinced that it was just as boring as normal services. 

There had to be something special about it! First off it was at midnight, only mischief happens at that hour and mischief is what younglings are all about. 

I didn’t want to hear that I couldn’t go simply because it was past my bedtime. I accepted the earnest explanation (which always came after the gale force cutass) of why I was wrong to steal sips from the bottle of ponche de crème, foolishly thinking I couldn’t be seen crouching behind the half closed refrigerator door. 

But this ole talk about “bedtime” wasn’t going to keep me out of this midnight mass ting forever. One year, after the nagging became too much to shoulder, my father relented and took me with him to the church which was right next door to my home.

I was the walking dead on the way across, fidgety and surly with sleepiness two minutes in and by the first carol, my dreaming was already in its second act. 

So midnight mass was no big deal, no mysterious fun that adults were having to the exclusion of the children. 

No worries, in the morning there would be presents to sort out. ’Twas the only morning of the entire year that my mother didn’t have to pull me like a stubborn donkey on a rope out of bed to get ready for school. 

Before the break of dawn I’d be sitting on her chest like a hungry cat. That irritation was meant to force a careless authorisation to attack the gifts with a whirlwind of furiosity; what could they be? Are they absolutely useless shoes concealed in a tantalisingly large box? Because shoes, books and other pedestrian sundries are for every day of the year that is not today! 

But before we could surround the tree as if it were some wizened sage, breakfast had to be addressed. 

My mother handled pastelles like money, and paid us like car-washing pipers. The one and only batch of these irresistible banana-leaf wrapped packages of goodness had to last us until New Year’s Day, possibly beyond. 

My father was even more militant with the rations. He preferred to dole out the ham slices himself, sharpening the knife obsessively to achieve precision in apportioning this precious resource. 

When he lifted up a slice to put it on my plate, I could see his face right through that diaphanous serving. It was as thin and light as a handkerchief…a hamkerchief. Grumbling wasn’t tolerated, I just knew I’d have to fill up on bread and chow chow. 

As Christmas morning slowly unfolded, the television was switched on. TTT usually broadcast a Holly Betaudier special. Beautiful women draped in billowing sleeves and sweeping red skirts sang passionately into microphones while the cuatro men strummed the strings energetically, belting out some language I didn’t understand but nevertheless read as an intrinsic part of the entire Christmas experience. 

As the dew gave way to the heat of mid-morning, the cavalcade of relatives would slowly begin. Long lost aunts and uncles with cousins in tow filled the porch with chatter. The “good” cutlery, plates and glasses, locked away from clumsy children during the course of the year, were trundled out for servings of black cake and ponche de crème that escaped my ill-fated raids. 

It is hard to resist indulgence in these memories, because they are seeds of hope, reminders of times that brought happiness through the affections shared amongst family and friends. My Christmases past foster a belief that, notwithstanding the oppressive burdens of life, the comforts and contentment I once knew can be reborn. 

This is what I hope for each and every one of you as you celebrate Christmas with your loved ones.

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