What is the true meaning of Christmas? What makes Christmas so special to a child? Here are some childhood memories…
By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj
Christmas has always been very special to me – what with carols, Mom baking cakes and stocking up on goodies, Dad decking up our home with the Christmas tree and tinsel when we were young, and the early morning church service. Add to this list Sunday school plays and tableaux, visiting relatives, friends and neighbours to distribute cakes, entertaining guests at home, giving gifts to children … well, it would go on and on. Amidst all this flurry of activity what stood out was the happiness we got by sharing what we had with others. This is a lesson that our parents taught us quite early in life. Our mom used to work in a government school where mostly children from less privileged backgrounds attended. Ever since I can remember until the year Mom retired (for more than 30 years), her students (numbering anywhere between 20 and 40) were our special guests. We used to host them for lunch, spend time with them and give them cakes and gifts. This made us really happy. For, the true spirit of Christmas is sharing and giving. Ultimately, the joy of Christmas pervades everything we do. That’s what makes it so special. With these memories of mine, I set out to gather special childhood memories of friends, colleagues and relatives.
Spirit of giving
“In those days, our Christmas tree was the good old casuarina branch. We were in Salem then. Going and fetching the branches from the foothills of Yercaud brought us the greatest joy. Of course, I still remember the colourful twirling tinsel that we used to decorate the house with… the traditional sweets and savouries (ribbon pakoda, diamond-shaped crispies, and athirasams) that Amma made… the distribution of the goodies to neighbours. I can never forget how I would go clad in the silk skirt that Mom would herself stitch for me, with a plate loaded with snacks and come back with something on the plate. You see, everyone to whom we distributed the eats would give us something in return. I would never return with an empty plate. That was the spirit of Christmas – ‘giving’. And, how can I forget the idlis and mutton curry – our staple Christmas breakfast and the sumptuous briyani that followed for lunch.”
- Anitha Bennett, freelance author and educational consultant, Chennai
Was Santa real?
“When I was a little girl, we lived in Calcutta, now Kolkata. Some of my earliest impressions of Christmas include the decorations on the iconic Park Street there. My parents would take me to see the sights, and I remember being bedazzled by the flickering fairy lights, the strings of stars of many colours and sizes, and the glittering 'snow'-laden Christmas trees festooned with tinsel and shiny baubles in all the shop windows. I can still see in my mind's eye the huge cut-out of a sleigh pulled by reindeer, carrying a plump, red-suited Santa complete with a bulging sack of gifts that seemed to hover over the street one year. I couldn't quite decide then whether it was real or not! There was also Flurys, the famous bakery where you got the most amazing pastries. And then, the novelty of being woken up before dawn and bundled into sweater, scarf and socks to go to church for the beautiful special service which infused even us kids with a feeling of comfort and joy.”
- Susan Philip, freelance editor, Chennai
A feeling of togetherness
Memories… Oh… memories of Christmas! It all began a couple of weeks before Christmas… How parents put up the huge (six-and-a-half foot!) tree overnight, decorated it and woke up to surprise us when we walked in sleepy-eyed… how my siblings and I would lie down under the tree every night after dinner and family prayers, look into it from underneath the tree and build stories about the small world inside the tree. We imagined there were little elves which dwelt on the tree and were in charge of the lights – it was all crazy, but fun! This was followed by gifts and parties. And, the most important thing about Christmas was the baking of cakes. It was truly a family affair – we experienced a feeling of togetherness. We would mix the rum, raisins, dried fruits and spices, and leave them to ferment a couple of months before Christmas. Then, a few days before Christmas, we would bake – yes, ‘we’ – I mean all of us would be a part of this process – beating the flour, pouring it in tins and cups, placing them in the oven and then checking on them every now and then to see if they were done. And, everybody we knew would get at least one cake – so, imagine how many cakes we would have baked. Another happy memory is the carols – we would begin the rounds around 7:00 p.m. and wind up yawning around 5:00 a.m. The church members and friends we visited to sing the carols would wait eagerly for our visit (ready to stuff us with gingerbread, cupcakes, masala tea, and of course, black coffee to help us stay awake!). It was all so much fun!
- Hannah S Mathew, freelance teacher, trainer and certified diagnostic counsellor, Chennai
The true meaning of Christmas
I can recollect quite a few incidents - A few days before one particular Christmas, we had given our new clothes for tailoring. My parents and sister got theirs ready on time; but, I didn’t get mine. Finally, on the 22nd, the tailor said I wouldn’t get mine as he was extremely busy. But then, Dad coaxed him into giving it and on Christmas eve I got my new shirt and trousers stitched. And, on the morning of the 25th, off I went to church at 4:00 a.m, clad in my new shirt and a wide grin on my face to accessorise it! Another memory is of one Christmas when Dad had been travelling on account of work. Looked like he wouldn’t be joining us for Christmas. We were a bit upset. But, then surprise of surprises! On the 23rd Dad came home. Both of us immediately set off on Dad’s bicycle in search of casuarina branches for our Christmas tree. We rode many kilometres before reaching a casuarina grove, obtained permission, pulled out our sickle, cut down a few branches, loaded them onto the bicycle and sped back home to put it up and decorate it. Another memory is of the carol rounds I participated in wishing people a merry Christmas. That particular Christmas, when one of the team members, read the verses from the book of Isaiah Chps 9 & 53 in the Bible, before the final song and prayer, I started pondering on the true meaning of Christmas. Was it just new clothes, trees, decorations, cakes and so on? I realised that they were only worldly signs of merriment. The true meaning of Christmas was that Christ was born on Christmas day to forgive our sins. This revelation made that Christmas very special to me.
- Prince Jeevanand, Human Resources Professional, Muscat
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