A DECEMBER to Remember | Sunday Observer

A DECEMBER to Remember

Christmas is around the corner, as 2018 almost draws to a close. December has gently unleashed her cool breeze to usher in that aura of the yuletide season. It is a time loaded with 'cool' memories of past festive celebrations.Changing trends continue to influence our Christmas rituals and family reunions. Today with stronger global connections, instant connectivity via social media and digital marketing platforms the ‘aura of Christmas’ is being subject to change. Some seniors argue that there is a void in ‘human interaction’ within the spectrum of Christmas celebrations. Thankfully in Sri Lanka we still celebrate with those who are near to us, perhaps minus the large oven roasted turkey resting on her bed of cranberry sauce.

Twenty five years ago we indulged in a more ‘family oriented’ Christmas, before the advent of social media and other digital transformations.

The ‘likes’ that we had then were expressed by friendly handshakes and kisses. The ones from the fair burgher girls were always welcome, as they were genuinely filled with the cheer of the season! By December 15, the festive ‘momentum’ steadily increased. It was a family affair and even the pet dog would sense that it was December. One of the family traditions at my home was the making of the Christmas cake: often referred in that era as rich cake, a reflection of its choice ingredients.

My beloved mother joyfully went about her culinary routine of neatly chopping the various fruits and cashew nuts that entered this complex mixture. When this long mixing ritual was complete the baking process began.

The large trays would not fit the oven at home so they had to be taken to the bakery nearby. I faithfully carried the trays with mother accompanied by some other neighbours. The bakery was intense with activity. The old baker looking quite exhausted takes our orders. We would have to return around midnight to collect same.

The return journeys were funny as Terrence had a habit of lighting fire crackers along the way and waking stray dogs from their harmonious realm of blissful sleep! Some seniors narrated ghostly encounters to accentuate the fact that we were walking in dimly lit streets at midnight. I wish there were apps to order cabs then.

My father was a caring family man who had his ‘December’ routines. One of his primary tasks was applying varnish on our wooden furniture to enrich their outward glossy look.

He would patiently commit himself to this task. During these time dad's elder brother Uncle Stephen would join us for a chat, at times with our neighbour Alloy Molligoda. This was the kind of interaction we enjoyed back then. These men have moved onto the golden shore. Uncle Norman always played his Christmas carols that included hits from Jim Reeves, Pat Boone and Frank Sinatra.

Cooking as a family was part of Christmas. Unlike today many did not fancy buying stuff. Today you can order food online. Of course some things were purchased like the brudher: which required expert baking and remains a secret skill of the dear burgher ladies.

But mama and her sisters were good at making coconut rock and milk toffee. The ‘imported’ cheese was brought on AirLanka (today Sri Lankan Airlines) via Canada by Uncle Justin.

This jolly soul added his own colourful interactions to our Christmas reunions. He spent hours making his beef smore and black pork curry. He truly enjoyed frying the lingus (sausages enhanced with cubes of diced fat).

Today there are many places to buy ‘Christmas food’ but somehow this practice has silently stolen that element of family reunion and chatter which we relished on the run up to December 25. My dad’s final yuletide duty was to buy the fresh pine Cyprus tree, which was a challenge.

Even in those days there were plastic trees, but we rejected plastic long before the campaigns of being eco- friendly and conventions on sustainability.

Today there are many places to buy ‘Christmas food’ but somehow this practice has silently stolen that element of family reunion and chatter which we relished on the run up to December 25. My dad’s final yuletide duty was to buy the fresh pine Cyprus tree, which was a challenge.

Even in those days there were plastic trees, but we rejected plastic long before the campaigns of being eco- friendly and conventions on sustainability.

After buying the tree from Main Street, Pettah getting it home by taxi was entertaining as the driver sneezed consistently perhaps that worthy had an allergy to the fresh green Cyprus! Decorating the tree was a family affair with the jokes from dad’s elder brother Uncle Stephen. He used to say I would end up as a writer one day I think I am at that destination now after 20 years.

At the editorial my features editor has his own Christmas tales, supplemented by those of Sports Editor Callistus Davy and Bernard Perera. The latter gentleman has an amazing memory in recollecting stories.

December 25 was a ‘24 hour rave’. The day began at around 5 am with Terrence and his brother Adrian letting out a volley of thunderous fire crackers, much to the dismay of another retired Tamil neighbour Nadesan. This old worthy was not fond of such disturbance and he made verbal threats from the fence.

On the way for morning church services we came across Uncle Gyles Anandappa heading for ‘mass’ clad in his neatly ironed full white clothes, he did look very celestial. Uncle Douglas De Vos his belly bulging, was earnestly seeking the beautiful girls on whom he bestowed his ‘yuletide kisses’ followed by the greeting of ‘Merry Christmas dear’ in his senatorial voice.

Lunch was a blessed affair with aunts, uncles and cousins. To this day I miss the jokes of my beloved uncle Godfrey Ebenezer, presently domiciled in Australia. He does share a few on Skype and Whatsup chats now.

The pork curry and fried lingus that would enhance your cholesterol levels were appreciated with resolute delight. The pork curry tasted even better the next night when eaten with roast paan. Today I am able to indulge in this culinary exercise throughout the year with my steadfast friends Praveen Mendis, Ishara Weeraratne and Timothy Nanthagopal on our nocturnal drives. Mendis who has flown to 27 countries remains a true Sri Lankan, as he would close the meal with his signature request of asking the waiter for ginger plain tea.

The festive ‘cheer’ of December was sustained until January 3. Mother managed to keep a few pieces of Christmas cake (from my hands) for relatives who visited Colombo from the outstations. Today greeting cards are out and e-cards are in. Traditional carols are replaced with ‘mixed’ bouts of rapping and an array of fusion music. But Christmas is not about eating and receiving gifts, there is much more to this global Christian celebration.

Today it is commercially branded with strategic marketing promotions as X-Mas, which is incorrect. Jesus Christ is the centre of Christmas. It is his birth in Bethlehem that is key to this annual festival. He was born with the ultimate task of one day paying for the remission of our sins, which he did on the cross of Calvary.

Christmas is celebrated in December, but the real gift of divine salvation endures throughout the year. Throughout my four decade ‘journey’ in life I have endured my share of victories and vicissitudes. I can endorse that the real Christ within Christmas remains a close friend in every challenge that life throws at you.

It is his presence that manifests the gift of his mortal birth. In our youth and adult life we have to make important decisions. The candles of December will fade away, but the light of the Gospels will liberate the darkness.

May you all experience a blessed Christmas and enter into 2019 with radiant hope!

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