Pettah vendors sustain the pulse of Christmas | Sunday Observer

Pettah vendors sustain the pulse of Christmas

Chief of the vendors’ union, Ameer
Chief of the vendors’ union, Ameer

The normally busy and vibrant streets of the Pettah reach a whole new realm in the month of December. The streets mirror a riot of colour. Enticing proclamations of discounts and good deals can be heard everywhere. With two days to Christmas, those who want to celebrate have come out in their hundreds to the general area of the bazaar. I walked along Malwatte Road to the large iron shed of the Municipal Council where vendors were busy bargaining and selling. The chief of the vendors’ union, Ameer is clad in a red T-shirt, as if to supplement the essence of the season. “We begin sales by 9 am, and go on till about 9 pm. It depends on the customers’ demands.

Last year, we stayed up till 11pm on some nights. People from all parts of Colombo and the suburbs come here,” he said, pointing to a temporary ‘garden’ of plastic Christmas trees.

The trees come in various shades of green. A few are pure white. A select few have been spray painted to give the resemblance of frosted snow on the branches. He adds, “The price of the trees depends on their height. The basic trees begin at 2,000 rupees. The height varies from 3 feet to 8 feet. I guess the choice in height depends on the space a family has at home. The most purchased colour is green, the natural colour of trees. Some prefer to buy fresh trees that come from the hill country, but a plastic tree is an investment and can be used for at least five years”.

A few others supplement the tree sales selling multi-coloured decorations. There are serene angels, bells, candles, rows of tiny LED lights, Santa Claus, reindeer and wreaths of holly set with red bows. Customers are choosy and keep bargaining. When not selling Christmas items these vendors often trade in textiles during the 11 months of the year.

Walking along Main Street, the street of many clothes emporiums I spotted another cluster of trees behind Titus Stores. This Christmas stall is manned by Sekera and his friends. He admits that purchases are a bit low as people have other priorities like children’s school uniforms and books. One item missing in the Pettah area surprisingly this year was the nativity set - with the Christ child, his parents, the three wise men and the farm animals.

I did see a solitary vendor selling these sets outside the main entrance of St. Mary’s Church, Dehiwela. Perhaps, our lifestyles are indeed changing the way we visually express the yuletide spirit. Many people in Colombo live in high-rise apartments and luxury condominiums. Of course, the latter will shop in elegant malls.

As the vendors said, a tree will fit into a confined space, and thus no space for the nativity sets? The whole exercise of families getting together to decorate the tree and other areas of their homes is also dictated by time. Is decorating the Christmas tree becoming a task relegated to the kids only? As a friend remarked, keeping gifts under the tree is becoming a costly affair. Another friend opined, people spend more time out of their homes, being entertained at restaurants and resorts or end up hosting others, so that less time is spent at home. Perhaps, this would explain why decorating and putting up the tree is a mediocre routine for the family.

On the subject of trees and synthetic décor, a new emerging trend is to use fresh trees (branches) cut from areas such as, Haputale, Diyatalawa and Bandarawela. The fresh fragrance of the pine/ cyprus tree will linger for two days and then the fading phase sets in. The adherents of this practice claim this is an eco-friendly stance towards sustainability, as plastic pollutes the environment.

Then there is the question of cutting down trees, does it not do greater damage to the eco system? Whatever tree you choose, hopefully it will impress upon your home the real meaning of Christmas which celebrates the birth of Jesus. It is best expressed in sharing your time and emotions in contrast to simply giving fancy gifts in dainty boxes. 

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