“There is nothing sadder in the world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” ~ Erma Bombeck
I grew up in a neighborhood where Christians were in the minority. Yet Christmas brought so much joy not only to us Christians but also to those who lived around us.
Christmas preparation started early in October at our home, when my mother along with my two older sisters and I went shopping for clothing and cake ingredients. Exchanging gifts at Christmas time was not a custom for us then. However, wearing pretty new clothes to church on Christmas morning, making the traditional Christmas fruit cake, and having a feast-like Christmas lunch with family and neighbors were part of the celebration.
The dark and moist fruit cake my mom made at Christmas was called Rich Cake, because almost all the ingredients that went into the cake were imported from either Britain or Australia and that surely cost a lot of money. At that time, we didn't have a cake mixer to beat the batter, or a food processor to chop the large amount of dried fruits or even an oven to bake the cake. Yet that didn't stop my mom from making the cake.
Along with my two older sisters, she spent long hours chopping the fruits and soaking them for days in brandy and golden syrup and beating the cake batter in a huge enamel basin with a wooden spoon. She then poured the batter into large baking trays and sent them to the bakery to be baked a month ahead. Once the cake was brought back from the bakery, no one was allowed to see, touch or taste the cake until the Christmas morning. It was stored securely in barrel-like steel containers away from ants and the family’s sight. As a child, I wasn’t fond of the fruit cake, and so it didn’t bother me much. My favorite was my mom's fluffy raisin and cashew nut cake.
We didn't have Christmas lights blinking on our rooftops or a decorated Christmas tree in our living room. Instead red, yellow and green ribbons of crepe paper hung across our front porch and living room with clusters of huge colorful balloons pinned at every corner. From the middle of December, Christmas carolers from our home church and nearby churches would start marching down our lane at night with lighted candle in one hand and tambourines in the other and making a joyful sound to wake up any dozing soul. Our Hindu neighbors neither complained nor showed any displeasure on hearing the carol singing even on late nights. Respect for each other's faith gave no ground to feud over such matters.
On Christmas morning, we would wake up to the sound of firecrackers blasting in our backyard and far across our streets. My ears, in the mean time would be perked up to hear another kind of sound-the jingling of keys on my father’s wardrobe in the next room. No sooner I heard my father calling out my name, I’d jump out of bed and run towards his room wondering what toy Dad would be holding in his hand this time. As always Dad would be waiting for me with a huge smile and a gift in his hand. A beautiful doll with blue eyes and golden locks, a winding toy-monkey beating a drum or a shaggy dog barking , a toy- train or tea set were some of the Christmas gifts I received at that age. My mom and older siblings got mostly clothing from my dad. Being the youngest, I was privileged to receive a toy as well as a frilly taffeta or an organdy dress.
Until we returned from church that morning, we were not allowed to eat anything. But when we returned, we would find all kinds of Christmas goodies and cakes laid out neatly on plates on the table with bunches of a variety of bananas.
Kaakka, an old Muslim man, who worked at my father’s office usually came in to help my mom prepare the Christmas lunch. Kaakka resembled the genie popped out of the Aladdin’s lamp. His broad toothless smile and gentle manners charmed anyone who came across him. In no time, he’d get ready to prepare his famous ghee rice and goat curry in two huge barrel like containers over open hearth in at our backyard The aroma of cloves, cinnamon, cardamoms and other spices in the curry and rice wafting in the air would soon bring the neighbors around to celebrate the Christmas meal with us. Invitation was not needed for anyone to drop in, and whoever came never left without eating on that day.
Apart from our neighbors, those who usually worked in our yard- fixing fences, plucking coconuts, sweeping the yard or chopping firewood would also come with their children to enjoy the Christmas meal and to take some food back home. As my parents presented new clothing and money to the workers after the meal, I enjoyed giving out candies, balloons and firecrackers to their children.
I may have born in a Buddhist country and grew up in a Hindu neighborhood, but the joy of Christmas experienced during my childhood was truly extraordinary. I didn't have the pleasure of sitting on Santa's lap to take a photo or have a pile of wrapped up gifts under the Christmas tree as my children did, but I had everything what Christmas is all about- love, laughter and sharing.
Posted last year in my personal blog-Precious Moments