Monday, December 05, 2011

The Spirit of Christmas Past

Christmas is most real to a child, perhaps because the Creator of the world came to us in the form of a child.

As children, preparing for Christmas, it was a delight to do something good and not be found out. The parish priest of St John the Baptist Church, Thane, (I think his name was Fr Peter something), came up with an ingenious idea to prepare the Sunday School children for Christmas. While others cleaned their homes, we children should clean our hearts, he said.

He handed each of us a single sheet of paper on which the popular image of a heart, with numerous lines crisscrossing it, was printed. The crisscrossing lines would total up to more than 300 little squares. The idea was that all through Advent, we should do something nice for someone and offer it as our gift to God. With each good deed, we would be permitted to colour one of those little squares. On Christmas Eve, we were encouraged to place our coloured hearts, a symbol of our love for God, in the manger at the church crib. Wrapped as He was in nothing but swaddling robes, our coloured hearts would keep Him warm.

Looking back, I recall that none of my good deeds were really scale-breaking. Sometimes I may have foregone a sweet that my brother wanted. Or I may have given up watching a favourite TV programme and tried to help mum instead.

More than the deed itself, it was the spirit in which it was done that made it significant. For once, we thought of the needs of others, rather than our own. For once, we swallowed our pride and grief, if we were scolded undeservedly. For that one time in the year, we would try our best to be a little less selfish, a little more generous, a little more as God would have us be.

The Wise men came with their gifts. We brought our hearts. It was with a glow in my heart that I would place mine at the manger, knowing without the shadow of a doubt that just as the Babe smiled upon the little drummer boy in one of my favourite Christmas songs, He would look with delight upon me.

My parents never bought us gifts at Christmas. Partly because our financial circumstances didn't permit it. But more importantly, because we were just not aware of the tradition of buying one another gifts for Christmas. The way my parents taught us to view Christmas, the focus was always on the Birthday Boy, whose birth transformed the world.

So the tradition of piling up neatly wrapped gifts at the foot of the Christmas tree and pretending it was Santa Claus who had bought them for us never featured in our memories of Christmas Past. In fact, for a very long time, we didn't even have a Christmas tree.

Dad used to make a crib, a small visual representation of the Nativity. It was a small house that Dad had fashioned out of leftover plywood. It wasn't at all ramshackle as the real one must have been, but that was because Dad had good carpentry skills. With loving hands, he would smooth sawdust on the floor, place the thatched and stitched roof on top of the house and put the little statues in their positions. Even as he tried his best to make the little house as comfortable as possible, he would tell us, "The real stable must have been dirty and smelly. Imagine the trouble that Our Lord willingly accepted for our sake."

All through Advent, my excitement would be steadily built up, rising in intensity as Mum made a different Christmas sweet each day for our kuswar (Christmas goodies). One day, it would be neureos, then perad the next day, dodol the day after, and cake and kormolan the next. The following day, it would be two types of doce (the Portuguese word for sweet). one made of chana dal, and the other of local bread or pao. They were both my favourites, chonya doce and unddya doce, unddo meaning the Konkani word for bread. This would be followed by batk or bolinhas. For the local flavour, Mum would make chaklis and besan laddoos and our basket of Christmas goodies would be complete.

Day after day, our little home would be redolent with the aromas of all these sweets. It was another reminder that Christmas was approaching. As these Christmas goodies were being made at home, I would go to school with a heavy heart. Somehow it seemed unfair to miss all the excitement even for a few hours.

Incidentally, one of my cousins, so went a famous family story, apparently wrapped up a school exam in a fraction of the time allotted to write it because she did not want to miss out on the kormola making at home. While it was a very amusing story that never failed to bring on the laughs, dear cousin, if you read this, I want you to know that I thought your action was thoroughly excusable. :)

Meanwhile, Dad would decorate our little house with colourful buntings and balloons, even as Christmas carols would be playing on our little tape recorder. Mum would sew Christmas dresses for the two of us. The finishing touches would be put at the very last minute, often because there was so much that she had to do, while managing her sewing business too.

While these preparations were on, my excitement would be muffled, under wraps. It was only when Dad got the crib ready, often the last step in our Christmas decorations, that the warm feeling in my heart would smoulder into a full-blown fire.

Those childhood Christmases were beautiful. I remember the thrill that used to come over me at Mass on the first Sunday of Advent when the choir would sing, "Bestir thy power, and come, Lord, to save thy sin-laden race." It used to be my cue to give in to unmitigated joy and excitement because my favourite time of the year was finally here.

Truly, there is no Christmas like the one experienced by children. One casualty of being a grown-up is that unfortunately we lose the tenderness and affection that we used to experience as children. We lose the warm Christmassy feeling and merely end up keeping the date.

This year, I resolve to change all that. I resolve to become a child again at Christmas time. I resolve to re-live the excitement that was mine, all those years ago, and to share in the delight of my little daughter and son and two nephews. I resolve to open my heart again so that when I peer into the crib and look at the little Babe lying in the manger, I can feel content that I have made my heart a fit dwelling for Him.


  1. Nice, refreshing childhood memeories in our small home

  2. Hi Cynthia,
    I remember the little hearts that I tried really hard to fill with beautiful colours and never managed to fill it completely! And I remember Christmas being magical right up until I was in my early 20s, counting down till Christmas Eve and then Christmas day, I miss those days of when even the air felt different! I wish them back and most of all I wish my son will know that feeling too....
    Gotta go, I just heard Sleighbells ringing


  3. Brought back the childhood memories .. yours and our Christmas at home was very much similar ... but for us sometimes we had to celebrate christmas without our dad.
    I try to recreate some of my childhood Christmas moments.
    Merry Christmas to you all....:))))


  4. Hi Merwyn,
    Thanks. It really feels good to re-live those wonderful memories.

  5. Michelle, The beauty of Christmas was truly one of childhood's greatest blessings. I hope that you can share the wonder of this special time with your little son. Wish you a wonderful season of Advent and a great Christmas ahead.

  6. Mark, I am very glad to know that like me, you too were able to re-live your childhood memories of Christmas. I am sure that you must be successfully creating a magical Christmas for your sweet little daughter. I wish you and your family a meaningful season of Advent and a great Christmas.

  7. Cynthia, Very well written and so true. Like you we too did not grow up with presents for Christmas and for the same reasons. I sometimes wish my kids did nt receive the number of presents that they do. I certainly ll do my very best to make it a meaningful season.

  8. Hey Cyn

    Lovely lovely read indeed. Lot of memories here too... nariyal barfi, home baked cakes, rose cookies and so much more.... we used to gather around the stove ( those old kerosene kinds) and help maa with the christmas sweets. The boys would put up the streamers and other decor . Sigh..i do miss all those days. Most of all i miss the family...the love.. and the real spirit of Christmas...

    I can relate so well with your childhood memories my dear. I wish you an awesome Christmas time and Jesus in your life...all year long. :-)


  9. Hey Cyn,

    You brought back my childhood memories .. yours and our Christmas at home was very much similar ....i remember my dad used to give us money to buy christmas dress on 23rd Dec....till then we were clueless whether this year we could get our new clothes or none at all....those days were the best i would expectations of gifts from dad and mum due to financial crunch and so the concept of christmas gift from anyone did not arise. I remember we used to purchase christmas greeting cards to post them to our cousins and friends well in we just don't seem to have time for all this.....sad ya...but yes i want to relive that christmas again and will try to do so.... !!

  10. Hi Priya,
    I agree completely. We did not have half the things that kids these days take for granted. In spite of that, we enjoyed Christmas. I wonder how our parents managed that.

  11. Angel, Those Christmas sweets were just too good. Don't you remember the thrill of being asked to taste those cookies and cakes and report on how good they were? It made me feel very important. You're so right. Christmas is truly about family and sharing a bond that nothing can break.

    Hey Anonymous, I remember the tradition of buying Christmas cards and writing addresses and posting them. Then when we got cards in return, we used to string them up just above the crib. The sight of those cards helped us feel that beyond this tiny family, we were part of a larger family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. Thanks for bringing that memory back to me.
    You have a great Christmas, and please sign off with your name next time so I know who you are. :)

  12. hi. Cynthia wait till i get my hands round your neck. You brouhkt before my eyes the maths paper wherin I had scored three marks and also the slap I got from dad. But the next exam I made it up by scoring a 100 out of 100. Thanks for helping me feel the imprint of dad's hand on my face.

  13. Nostalgic...very much!I read that share about student's apology and it was touchy....and yeah,X'mas is a“time for giving, time for getting, time for forgiving and time for forgetting.” :-D

    Happy X'mas & New Year!Cheers!

    If there's time please drop at

    Thanks, have a great time! :-D



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...