Christmas musings

To me, certain sights, scenes and sounds have always been nostalgically evocative of Christmas right from childhood — the appearance of colourful Xmas stars over homes, a log fire crisply crackling its greetings from the hearth, frosted windowpanes with kids fingering drawings on them, the lawn ‘smoking’ with mist early in the morning, condensation drifting from the mouths of carollers at night, excited children ripping open their presents like a shoal of piranha and the joyful chiming of church bells, not to mention the ‘excavation’ of mothballed warm clothing to ward off the sharp nip in the air that heralds the festive season.

Jim Reeves’ soothing baritone, too, was an integral part of our Xmas celebrations as he inimitably crooned those timeless ballads, bringing cheer into every home tuned to Radio Ceylon in the 1950s and 60s. And I recall an elder quipping that Xmas was the season when radios kept one awake until 2 am playing ‘Silent Night’!

The ceremonial cutting of the Xmas cake by the head of the family was a tradition that still continues unbroken. Thereafter dainty little glasses of home-made wine would be passed around to wash it down, with the menfolk commenting appreciatively on the heady brew – and the kids asking for one more helping!

The search for a Santa Claus with a waistline expansive enough for the role was always fun in those distant days, with many portly elders volunteering. I recall a housewife pointing to her pot-bellied spouse and lamenting, “Sadly, now that he’s got the shape for the job, the kids no longer believe in Santa Claus!”

I’m also reminded of the crew of an American warship who were dismayed to find themselves at sea over Christmas during World War II. On Xmas eve a member of the crew strung up a woman’s one-piece bathing suit on deck with a note that read, “Dear Santa Claus, please fill this up for Christmas!”

Then there was the 6-year-old boy in catechism class who was asked what Xmas was all about. “Christmas is when Mum bakes cakes,” he replied naively, “and Dad hopes her relatives won’t turn up.” Kids do come out with some unsavoury home-truths, confirming Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation that “Pretty much all the honest truth telling there is in the world is done by children.”

Xmas, of course, is when we like to surprise our loved ones with unexpected presents. This once led a wit to remark that a clever wife is one who knows how to retie the Christmas gift that her husband has hidden from her! Once while looking for an Xmas present in a clock shop, I came across this eye-catching pun on a placard: “There’s no present like the time!”

One of my most vivid memories is the Xmas eve when I – then a 7-year-old – caught my parents sneaking into our bedroom around midnight to fill our stockings with toys. It shattered the myth of Santa Claus descending the chimney laden with a sack of goodies. Now, decades later, I dutifully narrate the same yarn to my grandchildren!

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Christmas musings

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