Holly, reindeer, mistletoe, Christmas tree and snow may be the universal symbols of Christmas, but growing up in the tropical city of Chennai, Christmas to me, as a little girl, symbolised anything but cold and chill. It meant warm hugs from loved ones that would greet me on Christmas morning. It was about the steamy and hot spread that the dining table was filled with through all the meals of the day. It centred around the glow of gifts and the radiance of all things material.
Yet, looking back, amidst these visible and external gifts come the invisible and true gifts of peace and goodwill that are at the core of Christmas. The joy from these gifts lasts longer.
They open our eyes to the true meaning behind the celebration of Christmas. Once our eyes are opened, they transform us, leaving us as better people, sensitising us and drawing us close to those less fortunate than us. One such memory that became the defining moment in bringing out the true gifts of peace and goodwill of the season is etched in my mind after all these years since it happened.
We were more or less of the same age group, with the common curiosity and imagination that characterise little girls. Yet, the similarity ended there. For, she was the daughter, youngest among many children, of my mother's maid. Thus on occasions - and they occurred in regular frequency - when she accompanied her mother to my home, she would, much to my annoyance, snoop around my toys and books.
Though I should have offered her my hand of friendship and of peace and goodwill, something would always hold me back. Perhaps, it was her incessant running nose or uncombed hair or the crumpled clothes she wore? Or perhaps, it was because I had friends who appeared neater and smarter than the poor girl who made me relegate her to a worthless position?
Whatever the reason for my indifference, little did I realise that inside this simple girl resided a heart large enough to bring me the season's true gifts.
As I woke up to the Christmas morning with jaunty thoughts of the day ahead, the cheer was already palpable in the household. Carols from the music player kicked in the festivity; the aroma of the season's best delicacies wafted from the kitchen; people in the household were moving around chattering and laughing; mirth was in the air.
Feeling the magic of Christmas, I jumped out of my bed. Running into the parlour excitedly, I got a glimpse of my maid's daughter peeping through the aperture of the drapery. Though I wasn't eager to meet her, the Christmas spirit nudged me gently. Reluctantly I drew the curtain to greet her.
I was pleasantly surprised to see her in new clothes and with neatly combed hair. Pointing to her new dress, with a toothy grin and an upbeat spirit, she asked, "Do you like the colour?" "It's alright," I said coldly. "My mother bought this from the bonus your mother gave her for Christmas," she continued, with a twinkle in her eyes. "Oh," I replied with continued snobbishness. "And here is something for you in return for Christmas."
She handed me a pack and gesticulated at me to open it. With a hesitation that came from sheer conceit, I opened the box casually, anticipating something cheap and insignificant. But I was aghast to find nothing in the box. She must have sensed the bewilderment on my face, for she shyly whispered, "I've packed my hugs and kisses, and these are my gifts for you for Christmas." So saying, she scrambled with a sense of great satisfaction to the backyard where her mother was busy with her work.
Little as I was, I could not fully comprehend the show of peace and goodwill behind the little girl's gesture at that time. Yet, as years passed and the wonder behind the first Christmas in Bethlehem when God gave himself to the world as a little babe wrapping the whole of humanity in peace and goodwill could be fully comprehended by me, the memory of the gifts by a poor girl would open my eyes to the truth that there is nothing more precious than the giving away of ourselves in peace and goodwill to others.