I’ve been having a little difficulty getting into the Christmas spirit this year. I thought it was because of the hectic nature of the last three weeks with deadlines at work, moving offices, dealing with stuff at school with the kids and of course running the household, but I’m no stranger to busy so I knew it had to be something more and as I started writing this I started to uncover why my mood has been a little less festive than usual.
I have always loved Christmas. I loved the Santa, North Pole, reindeer fantasy and magic of it as a child and was so grateful to be able to create that wonder for my own children. I love the joy and cheeriness of people and the extra effort they make to be kinder and more generous and loving and I have always felt that Christmas gives many of us a chance to perhaps redeem ourselves, give of ourselves and to have a chance to end the year in a positive and uplifting way so we can start the New Year with a clean, fresh slate. Having been raised Catholic, I also cherish the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ.
The birth of the man who walked the earth advocating a way of life so simple, it is hard to understand why we have made it so complex and why we have let greed, competition and hatred turn a simple life concept based on love into this unattainable goal of peace and unity.
I have always loved Christmas, be it green and hot or white and snowy, it has and always will be my favourite time of year. Like childhood, I feel that Christmas is too short, so my benchmark for the start of my Christmas season is the American Thanksgiving holiday. To me, it is the perfect time to start thinking of putting up the tree and decorating the house to create that warm, inviting, family feeling that is so comforting to me and mine. It is a perfect time to start planning when to host or visit family and a perfect time start thinking of that special little gift for each person in my life and thinking of ways (with the boys) to make someone’s life in our midst a little better. It is a perfect time to start my personal countdown to at least three days when I am surrounded by family, relaxing in the comfort of our home without having any work, school or extra curricular commitments to interrupt our time together.
I have always loved Christmas with all its sights, sounds and smells. I close my eyes and can smell the warm smokiness of Mom’s ham, the aroma of the seasonings she used to prepare the turkey wafting throughout our flat, and the hearty scent of the stuffing and pastelles that confirmed it was Christmas chez Barsotti. I remember Daddy squeezing his eyes shut in the delight of opening the jars and having the tangy, garlic, mouthwatering smell of uncle Manny’s, Aunty Barbara’s and the Abreu’s garlic pork hitting him in the face, and year after year savoring the delicacy, unable to decide which sample was the best. I also will never forget the sweet, fruity, rummy smell of every aunty’s black cake and if I keep my eyes shut long enough I can taste it all too…the pastelles, the sorrel, the ginger beer
… because with my eyes closed I never left Trinidad, I am still a child and everyone …everyone who is supposed to be there, is there.
That’s it you know…that’s why I am having a harder time getting into the Christmas spirit this time around. I find myself at almost one year to fifty realizing just how many of us are gone. During all these years spent creating Christmas memories with my husband and children, there was an unconscious comfort knowing everyone who made my Christmas memories special were still around. It’s like the pieces of the puzzle that created my Christmas were still in place keeping my foundation solid so that even though I was far away creating new memories with my own family, the essence of who I was and who I am was still there.
I have always loved Christmas carols and songs that bring back so many wonderful childhood memories that involved the significant parts of the puzzle of my foundation that are missing now. I don’t know how much it has changed, but when I was younger and lived in Trinidad, Christmas seemed to last longer than the ones I have experienced while living abroad. I was always dancing in some end of term Christmas pageant, singing at the hospital, hospice, old folks home or at the big Creche at the St Ann’s Gardens and of course the celebration of Midnight Mass all of which to me was the best build up to the greatest time of my year.
I remember my mother wrapping presents for her sisters and brothers and our dozens of cousins and how excited Reina and I were to go with Dad, and deliver them to their homes and having a little visit at each stop. I remember admiring each of my aunts trees, each decorated with a similar Yee Foon style with a flash of their own flare. Each year on Christmas Eve, Daddy’s brother, Uncle Frank would bring our cousin Natasha over for a visit. When we were little we played from the time she arrived until she left and as we got older we moved around less while our mouths moved more as we chatted endlessly about things and people at our school and what we hoped we would get for Christmas.
I have always loved the childhood memory of the pride people took in readying their homes for the arrival of Baby Jesus. You see, I grew up in the Caribbean at a time when people would sometimes use Christmas as the perfect time of year to splash some paint on their walls, maybe sew and hang new curtains and freshen up their place a little bit. I grew up there in a time when people, no matter how much or little they had, took pride in a clean, inviting presentation of their home and always had some kind of refreshment to offer folks who stopped by to wish them all the best for the season. As the end of November approached, you could hear Christmas music on the radio, never mind we were sweating in the heat of the sun as Bing Crosby belted out how much he was dreaming of a white Christmas … and as my mother readied her ham, pastelles her turkey, ginger beer and her sorrel, she swayed her hips and shuffled about out kitchen to the merry notes plucked on the quatros and guitars that was our Parang. I don’t think I know anyone who grew up with me who don’t know at least 10 Christmas songs and carols word for word. What was even more astounding was whether we understood them or not we all sang along to popular Parang songs in perfectly pronounced Spanish.
And even after I outgrew Santa Claus, Christmas Eve through Boxing day was the crescendo of my Christmas season. To me, there was so much goodness in the atmosphere I couldn’t help but be happy…so happy I could burst and I will be forever grateful that I was blessed to have been born and had the opportunity to grow up for 20 years in a place where life, cultural events and holidays were celebrated by all regardless of ethnicity or creed or race. There we all were, on a hot sunny island, the pieces of the foundation of my childhood memories – my parents, my aunts, uncles and cousins and dear and cherished family friends dancing and eating and celebrating in somebody’s house every weekend as Christmas approached.
Aunty Meiling and Uncle Mike were always ready to host a party. At Aunty Moye’s and Uncle Kit Sang’s there was always the most delicious food and a lot of jokes and laughter. At Aunty Jean’s and Uncle Joe’s it was always spic and span, beautifully decorated and there was always some ditty or treat you never tried before and, of course, Uncle Joe’s Punch de Creme that he was always willing to share. Aunty Yvonne was always one for for her kind words and her deeply felt well-wishes for us all and I will forever have the carefully crafted, beautifully hand made pieces, family artists Uncle Archie and Aunty Pat would give to our family every year. I will never forget my parents’ dear family friends, Nicky and Jean Inniss who had live paranderos and a steel band at their home where life and holidays were to be celebrated by all.
I will always fondly remember the fantastic Christmas floral arrangements and the spectacular decorating job my mother’s friend Aunty Barbara would create not just in her own home or for her friends but in the shopping malls and business places alike, lending her signature style to an entire island. I will never forget my sweet Grandad who took us to church and walked everywhere and took the most time to carefully ponder what would be the most mentally stimulating and interesting presents to give Natasha, Reina and me. To this day, I carefully open and turn the slightly yellowed pages of the English grammar books, the dictionary and special interest books he gave to me all those years ago, even if just to read his handwritten inspiring note to me and to touch something he once held. I will forever remember Mrs. Sylvia Hunt, who for years, shared her culinary prowess with our tiny twin island nation on television. Sylvia became a family friend and all I have left of her are two not very flashy and simply laid out, stained-by-ingredients-over-the-years cookbooks that guided my hands as I fought my way through certain local recipes so I could add my heritage to my boys’ palette.
Now, almost one year to fifty, I look back on those days with pride and joy but tonight I am weepy as I write and recall. You see, short of Mom, Aunty Meiling, Uncle Mike, Aunty Moye, a few other aunts and uncles and the cousins many of these dear people are gone and I feel sometimes that part of me is gone too and because I live away from the land of my birth, the memories I am making now with my family are wonderful but so very different and alas, I find my Christmases now, a little shorter and colder and I am not talking about the weather. While I know, like anywhere else, Trinidad has changed, I can tell by posts on line by my family and friends, the atmosphere is pretty much the same.
I wish Christmas everywhere was less commercial. While it’s fun to shop and get special gifts for our family and friends, it has become out of control because we let ourselves be controlled by the things we see that we feel we must have. Everyone is too busy to get together and just sit and spend time chatting during the holidays. And while presents and prices have gotten out of hand, we like to shove that politically correct stick in the spoke of the Christmas wheel that chastises people for saying Merry Christmas. You know what, as a Christian, I have said nothing as non-believers and non-Christians piggy back on the celebration of the birth of Christ just to take advantage of retail sales and receive presents. They have no clue that the exchange of gifts is the commemoration of the wise men and shepherds bringing gifts to the baby Jesus – they just know guy in a red suit, retail frenzy, exorbitant costs and Boxing Day sales. More, more, more. Me, me, me. I also really wish those “wannabe non-offenders” would stop offending me by trying to tell me I can’t say “Merry Christmas”. If I say “Merry Christmas” to you and it doesn’t apply, it’s okay and easier to nod and either say “thank you” or “same to you”. “If someone came up to me and said “Hey, happy Kwanzaa” I’d be all, “Right back at ya. Happy Kwanzaa,” So much easier than making much ado about absolutely NOTHING. I wish people could just stop for a moment and dial Christmas back to a time when it was less about stuff and sales and bargains and political correctness and more about friends and family being together. I wish schools could call a Christmas pageant, a Christmas pageant and that kids could sing carols about the birth of Christ without a lot of fuss from tightly wound-tightly-over-nothing adults in control. Wow…that was a rant in the middle of a heartfelt piece….sorry I digress. Re focus, Daniella.
I have always admired and respected the effort my parents made to give us the best childhood and the most special Christmases they could. I remember while doing their best to give us better than they had, they taught Reina and me what the true meaning of Christmas was. One of my earliest Christmas memories was of Daddy taking us and several toys to the orphanage to distribute to the children there. We spent time making meals for the homeless and with our Dad and with our school we spent time with the elderly who very often had no family, We were taught the importance of giving and remembering that it only took a minute to think of people who were poor, ill or lonely and another minute to share what we had with them and spread joy. Reina and I did receive a lot but we knew it was important to our parents for us to give even more and it is something I have continued with my sons because as their mother, I have an obligation to put two good and decent people on the planet.
I think in the days to come I will get into the spirit of the season. At this very moment, my heart aches because I am missing those who are gone and I am missing being able to jump in the car and go to my cousins. At this very moment I want to be downstairs in the courtyard of the Inniss’ home in Santa Cruz, dancing with our friends and family to sweet parang. I want to sit and watch Aunty Moye in the kitchen and I want to go by Uncle Joe and pick up a bottle or two of his delicious and potent Punch deCreme.
I want to see Aunty Yvonne’s tree with the big fat gold tinsel wrapped around it and I want to watch from the corridor in Aunty Meiling’s and Uncle Mike’s Valsayn home, at the aunts chatting and fussing in the kitchen while the uncles clink their scotch glasses toasting the season then talking about cricket and politics and whatever else tickling their their fancy. I want to be dressed in my Christmas nightie and be fascinated by that strange, little, yellow Chinese lantern bulb on that old string of lights Mom would string on our tree. I want back the Christmas of my youth and I want all those who have died to be alive and those who are far away to be near again but I can’t have that.
What I do have though, is confirmation from Logan that I have given and continue to give him and Adam their own special memories of Christmas. He said he and Adam also have ornaments on our tree they fixate on.
Ornaments that remind them of special events and special presents they’ve received. He remembers helping in the parades on those cold nights when his father and I worked for the local radio station. He remembers learning why filling the special shoe boxes with crayons and paper and pencils to send to kids in less fortunate nations was important and he remembers the food drives I helped them do for those threatened by hunger in our community. He looks forward to Christmas Mass with us and he has told me so much about what he remembers that I am able to take solace in my effort to give them similar experiences to mine at Christmas. I hope to be able to share many more Christmases with my three men, my mother, my sister and her family and my husband’s family and create many memorable moments. But for now, I am going to take the time I need to miss those far away from me and those who have died. This is the phase of life I have fo
und myself in now… after all 50 is less than a year away. But as I drink my eggnog and pretend it is Uncle Joe’s Punch de Creme, I toast all the pieces of the puzzle of my foundation who live miles away and I remember with love, honour and respect, my sweet father and his brother, my grandparents and aunts, uncles and friends who have left this earth. With my cousins and my friends who are the children of those who have passed, I will share a bit of sadness and grief but I know who we are is a direct result of what they gave to us and they along with all these wonderful memories will not be forgotten.This jumbled mess of words is dedicated to all my friends and family far away with a special dedication to those of us living without our loved ones – Gabrielle and Dominique, Janine and Ryan, Sui Yen and Meiling, Kim and Sue, Nicole and Jo Anne, my sister Reina, my mother Angela, my aunt and God Mother Ruth, Sean and Barry, Richard, Brian, Ian and Leslie. And to my cousins aunt and uncle who I really need to make a better effort to see – Susie, Marcus, Sharlene Michael Jr. and Sarah, Meiling and Michael Sr. – Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year. May you be wrapped in peace and love for all your days to come ~ Danie.