So What is Christmas ?-by J. Godwin Perera


This year it was a quiet, subdued, Christmas. The restrictions imposed to control the Covid 19 pandemic made sure of that. We were confined, constrained and constricted. Such controls were absolutely necessary and no one but the pitifully ignorant or stubbornly indifferent would have protested. Even the Church endorsed such steps and rigidly enforced the Covid -19 Safety Protocols. But there was a time not so long ago when Christmas was more than just a date on the calendar. It was a season. It was one long season of celebrations, revelries, festivities. The season was ushered in during the very first week of December as the airwaves replayed the Golden Oldies of Christmas. ‘White Christmas’, ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,’ ‘ I saw Mummy kissing Santa Clause,’ ‘Jingle Bells.,’ ‘Little Drummer Boy’ etc…etc…. Then came the shops announcing a ‘Pre- Christmas Sale’ By mid – December the sign boards were changed to ‘Christmas Sale.’ Same merchandise. Bigger discounts. Worked out on higher basic prices. The shop keepers sure knew what works. Cotton wool would be liberally pasted all around the show case windows to signify snow. There would also be rigifoam cut- outs of Christmas trees, bells, and sleighs drawn by reindeer. A nondescript person from the neighborhood would be conscripted, given a Santa Clause cloak and cap and instructed to stand outside ringing a bell. Not to be outdone the Super- Market checkout girls would be given Santa Clause caps to wear. Some even had a shapely girl wearing a mini-skirted version of the Santa Clause cloak and a cap jauntily placed on her head to assist customers. It was a Christmassy version of Customer Care. Even the pavement hawkers raucously joined in the excitement of the season selling artificial Christmas trees and decorations at prices which the established shops could not match. TV added millions of rupees worth of creative commercials to the seasonal revelries, many depicted tubby Santa Clauses distributing the advertised brands to happy children. There then followed a frenzied shopping spree for Christmas cards (to be sent only to those from whom cards were received last year!) and gifts (to be given only to those from whom gifts were received last year!) Then came the Hotel advertisements. ‘Gala Christmas Lunch.’ ‘Gala Christmas Dinner Buffet.’ The more innovative offered ‘Christmas Brunch.’ This was something between Breakfast and Lunch. Yet more innovative was ‘Christmas High Tea.’ This was something between lunch and tea. In between these festivities there was held the Police Christmas Carols which was one of the highlights of the season. If truth be told, the singing and accompanying Police Band was better than the best of Church choirs. A memorable performance. It certainly evoked the spirit of Christmas. Next on the agenda were the newsletters from Clubs, which exclaimed, ‘Carols Night’ (strictly for members and guests only),with a Grand Dinner Buffet and a live band to keep the tempo going. The response was terrific. On ‘Carols Night’ the singing was loud and lusty. This increased in direct proportion to the quantity of 100 percent proof stimulants imbibed. It was the time to be jolly. And jolly they were. No matter what. The Christmas season also had in its enchanting, enticing embrace around many homes. Cypress trees in N’Eliya

were cut, chopped , packed and sent down by train to Colombo. Here they were further cut and sold on the pavements near Viharamaha Devi Park and near the Henry Pedris Park. Sales were brisk. In homes these Cypress branches were stuffed into large flower pots filled with sand and decorated. The Cypress branch was transformed into a Christmas tree. Right on top was a tinsel star, flowing down were multi colored fairy lights. And among the branches daintily tied with ribbons were Bon-bons.

Baubles of varied colors and tinsel frills were fixed on doorways. And yes, there were artificial holly and ivy and mistletoe hung up at the entrance to the home. Little children were tenderly advised to keep a stocking (given by Ammi) by the bedside on Christmas Eve – 24th night, so that Father Christmas aka Santa Clause, will come secretly and put toys into the stocking. There was a midnight Church service at which quite often the sermon would be interrupted by the sound of crackers announcing the dawn of Christmas. Here at the service, yawns would be discreetly stifled and there would be a pretense of rapt attention while the Bible readings and sermon were delivered. The Christmas morning service would be packed with lounge-suited gents and expensive, saree clad ladies. No – it was not the ladies that were expensive. It was the sarees. The main thing was ‘wear your very best.’ The main thing was ‘to be seen’. The Church itself had a large, Christmas tree draped with twinkling fairy lights. After service a spree of Merry Christmas’s sprouted, sprayed and spread, together with plenty of hugging and kissing and wishing. And of course the ‘Oohs!’ and ‘Myee Child!’ of admiration, as ladies’ eyes swept up and down each other’s sarees. That over it was back home for the festive Christmas breakfast – Breudher, Christmas cake with almond icing, and Kiribath. A late lunch together with vintage wine (to help digestion) consisting of yellow rice, chicken curry, pork curry – the lot. Dinner would be more lavish. Friends and relatives (of course of the same social class) would be invited. Served liberally was Scotch, preferably single malt, or catering to those whose Sri Lankan preference demanded it, there would be Pure Coconut Arrack. Roast turkey was part of delectable menu. After dinner it was time for the children and young adults to enjoy. There would be fireworks. Real fireworks – sky rockets, catherine wheels, squibs which when lit, zig-zagged on the ground, amidst the shrieks and squeals of young ladies, sparklers, Roman candles and the bursting of Chinese crackers. But hold onhere is something to think about. Amidst all the wining, dining and wishing. Amidst the festivities and feasting. Where was the main star (no pun intended) of Christmas ? In fact the very word Christmas is derived from Him because its His birth that is being celebrated. Then where or what is the relevance of Christmas trees and Santa Clauses and reindeer? Has not the Christmas of Christ been hijacked by the Christmas of commercialism? Maybe this is a very good time to reflect, reconsider, rectify, our entire attitude towards ChristmasIsn’t it time that we heeded the words of the Man from Galilee instead of just paying lip-service to His words? In the reality of the spreading squalor of poverty doesn’t selfish ostentatious life styles go quite contrary to His words. Isn’t it our duty to remember the victims of the Easter Sunday massacre. Some are incapacitated. Some have been orphaned. Some are still receiving medical care. There are others. Lonely. Destitute. Critically Ill – who may never see another Christmas. If we are unable to trace them and offer financial assistance or material goods most needed, there are groups and institutions doing just that. Well then, let us help them to help these others. One practical suggestion is to divert the money spent on unnecessary décor and decorations and ostentatious dining and wining, towards the worthy causes just stated. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about ? Caring and Giving ? This does not mean that Christmas must not be celebrated. It is certainly a time for joy. Those who have been blessed with the good things in life should be thankful for such blessings. Do have that special lunch and dinner with friends and relatives. But remember, we who are the followers of the Man from Galilee who was God Emmanuel, Christmas and every day thereafter must be dedicated to – Sowing love where there is hatred. Sowing hope where there is despair. Sowing light where there is darkness. Sowing joy where there is sadness.

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