Once again, it’s Christmas time. A holiday which is about our Saviour’s birth, but marked more with frantic gift-buying, tree-buying, decorating, gift-wrapping, home-cleaning, cooking, baking, guiding harassed kids through crowded malls and humming Little Drummer Boy or Silent Night even in our sleep.
As my favourite columnist says, in the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it “Christmas” and went to church; the Jews called it “Hanukkah” and went to the synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Hanukkah!” or (to the atheists) “Look out for the wall!”.
My earliest Christmas memories are Middle Eastern. As we kids grew up in the Middle East, Christmas to us meant get-togethers with family and friends, countless phone calls to family across the globe – to grandparents, uncles and aunts (10 on one side and 4 on the other – yeah, we could easily stage a Nativity play – we have enough people of all age groups, within the family) We kids ate plenty of cake, drank Vimto and got our tongues red, went for midnight Mass, slept in the church babies’ room and came home hungry. What global warming activists are saying must be true; the one thing I remember is that unlike today, it was COLD during those nights. Really cold.
In school and in college, we sang carols and staged plays. Special holiday tip: If you are staging a Nativity show and thinking of using live animals, think again. We used live animals for a play once and one of the wee little kid goats (we couldn’t find sheep) decided to empty her bowels on stage. Her mother placidly went on chewing up the Christmas tree. The shepherd who was gingerly holding on to the kid goat, understandably, let go in horror. St Joseph was considerably upset. So was the nun who organised the whole thing with a bunch of us giggling girls.
The nuns didn’t give up though. The next year, your’s truly was one of the Magi and was told by my unkind cousin that I looked more like Raavan (a mythical king) rather than a wise man. Humph. My roly poly brother was Santa. Thirty houses and several hours later, Santa wasn’t frisky anymore. So we went home and ate more fruit cake with our neighbours.
The threat of colliding with escaped animals didn’t dampen the joy we felt during this special time of the year, it just gave way to adulthood and more adulting – baking, Christmas decorating, office parties and shopping. Every year we decided that we wouldn’t do much of these, every year we cracked. Lent may be really, really long, but it just doesn’t have that Christmas panache. Ask the kids in the neighbourhood if you don’t believe me.
2020 and 2021 certainly have been different. Some churches are still closed. Covid-19 rages still. What more could be offensive this year? A silly hubbub in the recent years was over the traditional greetings (Now we just want to get outside somehow and wish people ‘whatever’) Are you supposed to say ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Season’s Greetings’? In early New England, the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations calling it pagan. In 1990s, Birmingham wanted Christmas to be called Winterval. Then I heard about another holiday controversy (too many daily Whatsapp forwards) that by writing ‘Xmas’, a person is taking Christ out of Christmas. However, the term ‘Xmas’ is actually centuries old. The first letter in the Greek word for Christ is ‘Chi’ written as “X.” So, Xmas is fine for ‘Christmas’ apparently. Phew. Thank God there’s still plenty of fruit cake and Christmas crackers.
Social media slugfests for nothing. Tut tut. Political correctness gone too far? For us living in the 21st century, there is nothing wrong with celebrating a religious festival, simply enjoying the season and wishing each other a Merry Christmas.
It is obligatory around this time of year for us editors to write some kind of Christmas column. Christmas shopping? (not a nightmare at home, because with my OCD, I always do mine too far in advance) My holiday gift buying goes thus: For men – Give them clothes. They believe they have plenty for a lifetime, yet please give them more. An average man has 20 shirts, but he wears, at most, only four of them. So supplant it with toiletries, watches, anything related to their hobbies and anything practical.
Women: Jewellery, cosmetics, clothes (works for kids too – get the largest size – both can change sizes soon) home décor. Note: If a woman asks for a mauve scarf – don’t get her pink because you learned colours by sorting crayons in kindergarten. Make an effort and find out what mauve is to a woman. Especially if you are married to one.
Babies and toddlers: Toys they can’t swallow, break, set fire to and also, sturdy clothes, preferably made of some material they can’t eat up.
Older kids: Clothes (NOT white), anything sport-related. Most kids have their lockdown faces stuck in their brand new tablets. I am sure they Googled and found out that Santa is not real – which elf manufactures iPads?
The rest of us simple folk: Good books will do. Please.
Some are ranting about their disgust of the holiday being so wrapped up in consumerism. Some detest the white elephant tradition. They consider gifts unnecessary and pointless because you would be giving away crappy gifts just to get other crappy gifts right back. They miss the main point. True, commercialisation is probably the no. 1 complaint about any holiday. Yet what is Christmas without some gifts, cards and deep exchanges of love and laughter? Some have a lot of angst about religious displays on public property. Come on, people. For centuries, nativity scenes were placed in public spaces such as courthouses and parks without a problem. However, today, atheists and civil liberties activists claim that the scenes are a violation of the separation of church and state. Coronavirus has levelled things a bit.
The bottom line is: regardless if you want to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid, Diwali or any other holiday this year, then by all means do it – and allow others to do the same. Enjoy the season, be kind to one another and just love the people God has blessed you with. That’s one thing we still can do, Covid-19 or no.
I remember being little and super excited about the presents under the tree. I still love the drives to see family and friends at Christmas. Sometimes arduous, sometimes therapeutic and too often, too short. It is easy to get lost in all the cooking, the running around, the presents, the travelling and the visiting.
The constant, however, has been the baby in the manger. It’s been more than 2000 years and HE never changes. Jesus never really leaves our sides. Let HIM come in and stay – this time, in our HEARTS, for good.
There are many religious holidays throughout the year – celebrate those with others, thank God for family, friends, health and countless other blessings. Share, celebrate life and welcome others into yours. Put some loving vibes out into the world. Indulge, put your feet up and recharge your world.
To you and yours, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from [email protected]
By Linda Joseph Kavalackal,