Christmas is an odd time of year for me. Traditions and all the cultural nuances make it all so confusing for me that I end up with a kind of conglomeration of ideas about the season and how it ought to be celebrated. If I had to distill it all down into one simple thought, it’d be that Christmas is first and foremost a time for family.
Growing up, Christmas meant a few different things for me. It meant having to get out of bed at 4:00am to get to church for 5:00am service. This is a tradition that has perpetuated in my immediate family for several years – Christmas morning service when we sing Christmas hymns and talk about the birth of Christ as the sun rises in the east and casts an ever-warming glow behind the artfully crafted cross in the east wall of the church. The church was built several decades earlier with glass blocks in the shape of a cross in the wall. On the inside, a wooden cross was bolted to the wall so that when the light hits those glass blocks, the wooden cross on the inside looks to be glowing. Watching that light up progressively on Christmas morning was quite the spiritual experience for the young me. Even if I was pouting from having been forced out of my warm, cozy bed before daylight.
As soon as we got home, Mom would make hot cocoa and I’d open my presents. There were never too many presents for me to open so that wouldn’t last very long. I’d always wondered why I never got a ton of presents. For a long time, I thought it was because we couldn’t afford it. Then I began to understand that my parents were trying to ensure I never got used to getting a ton of presents. That is the route to the dark side and narcissism and entitlement. Thank god for my parents’ foresight.
The rest of the day typically was spent listening to a variety of musical pieces as my father and mother took turns playing their favourite music. The day typically started out with Handel’s Messiah. At some point, Dad would switch that to The Student Prince. If Mom was in an argumentative mood, we’d get a little Nat King Cole in there too. Sometimes, we’d get some Sparrow (calypso) near to lunch time. If Mom wasn’t particularly argumentative, she’d just turn on the radio as soon as Handel or Mario Lanza’s Student Prince was finished, and we’d get Christmas carols for the rest of day. There was no reggae in our house; no-siree; nuh uh.
All of this set a backdrop to the smells of your typical Jamaican Christmas. In the early years, rice and peas, escoveitch fish, brown-stew chicken, roast beef, and ham would mingle with sorrel and rum cake. Dad would drink a beer or two during the day, switching to Vodka later on if friends stopped by for eats. Mom would sip Sherry, switching to a “brown bow” (coffee liqueur and milk) if guests were over. Bonus: I’d get to sample them all.
Over the years, as Christianity took on a more ominous tone for me, Christmas morning 5am service became more about being with my parents for something they saw as important more than anything else and the reality of that cross on the wall morphed into a symbol of the illusion that Christianity and faith actually is. Slowly, over the years, the day became less and less about celebration and music. Less food was cooked, less people stopped by, less alcohol consumed. One of the last Christmas days I remember involved 5am service, Christmas Carols on the radio, escoveitch fish and bammy. We all mostly slept the day away and no one passed by to visit.
I got married in 2008 and suddenly Christmas was this huge deal again. Christmas Eve at one set of in-laws with one set of gifts. Christmas Day with another set of in-laws and a whole different set of gifts. Just as much food and alcohol and company, less religion. It just so happens that 2008 was my first white Christmas too.
Even after a revival of Christmas Spirit as a new member of the Frantz family, the fervor has dimmed even faster in the ensuing years than it had in the years before the wedding. These days, my husband and I “Bah Humbug” our way through what has become a very materialistic holiday. The most one might get out of me this time of year is a “Happy Yule” on December 21st, maybe a small light-returning ritual on the morning of the Solstice, and a quiet day meditating on the return of the sun. And of all the pagan holidays, Yule is the one I tend to observe most because by the time it rolls around, I am sick of short days and dark cold nights. Mostly, we get our food and we hunker down until after the madness.
Today (Dec 23rd) is the last day we will venture out of the house. We’ve got wood, hot cocoa, food, and drink to last us 3 to 4 days and we aren’t moving, unless we absolutely have to, until Saturday. So, Happy Holidays, everyone. Be safe out there. And see you on the other side.