Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What A Wonder Is Christmas

Anniversaries have a wonderful charm for most children. Because of their youthfulness, the passage of a year holds so much for them and the markers of a year that matter are festivals. Of course, birthdays are usually the most important, but for Christian children the next is usually Christmas. I hope that I wont offend my non-Christian friends by my not referring to whatever holidays they celebrate towards the end of a calendar year. I was brought up with the sparkle in the eyes of children at the prospect of Santa Claus arriving on the night of Christmas Eve, with his sleigh laden and his reindeer panting with excitement as they rushed around to every house to drop off the gifts before morning.

Growing up in the Caribbean, we never bothered with the contradictions of a chubby, red-faced Caucasian, heading from Greenland, over snow-covered landscapes to get to our warm lands in his heavy fur-lined coat. We did not worry about notions of Santa coming down our chimneys, even though most of us never had any idea of what was a indoor fireplace and a mantelpiece. We did not see anything amiss with images of ornament laden fir trees--we usually saw some of those even if only in a public square or a big house--but if they were in the snow near a snowman then that was part of the joyous image. Santa would descend and have his milk and cake. He would leave soot on the ground. Gifts would arrive and all the mystery was not for us to resolve. What did logic have to have with fantasy?

Of course, the point arrived when we would stop believing; for some that came abruptly when a a so-called friend broke the news that Santa was not real. Usually, it was because they had seen their father dressing up as Santa. Or they had seen their parents sneaking to put presents under a tree and then scamper back to bed. Once the spell was broken it was just a matter of could one hold on to the myth for a little longer.

Not everyone grew up with the tradition of exchanging gifts. Often, in poor countries, it was a major effort to put something special on the dining table for Christmas Day. Thankfully, the joys of home cooking did most of what was needed as the fruits that had been soaking in wine or rum all year were given the chance to bless our palettes as slices of delicious cake. Or, we would get the taste of a wonderfully baked and glazed ham. But, it could also just have been a chicken and having more than just a slice or a wing. I wont pretend to not having confused my cultures, having lived in the UK from a young age. So, things like stuffing seem to have been part of Christmas for ever. So too was a real Christmas pudding--sticky, dark and richly-filled with fruit--and mince pies dusted with icing sugar. I know that these things are part of the Caribbean Christmas as many older people produce them in quantity each year, using recipes handed down over the decades.

Then, we had the drinks. For my family, it was always sorrel and ginger, and I remember so well my mother cleaning the sorrel bush, with the twigs falling around her legs. We children never got the full flavour as our sorrel contained no alcohol, but it was still a great drink, with its redness seeming to be so much a part of Christmas. (You can imagine my heartbreak when this week the arrivals from Jamaica had their sorrel and ginger taken away by Customs officials.) Later, things like egg nog came on the scene. At some places, it was also the time for sherry.

Yet, while the excitement of presents arriving for Christmas was very real, it was for me about present that came from nowhere: they were magically summoned each year. I still find it hard to accept that you have to go to shop and buy presents. I hold onto the myth that Santa does play a part. When I watch the scurrying to buy and wrap I still wonder at what I see. I know that the notion of giving has more than one time and place so find the frenzy in December more than a little odd. It has no impulsiveness, but has a lot of compulsiveness. But, I am no longer a child so know that from my eyes I cannot really see right. I just look at my littlest child, as presents pile under the tree and she tries to guess what they are. She, at six, clearly knows that Santa only does a part of the giving. Does she prize his gifts more? Hard to say.

Now that most of the children are asleep and having that last dream before the sound of reindeer hoofs pound the roof, I hope that I can go back and imagine Christmas as a child and see its sparkle again.

Whether the sparkle is really a glorious light, or just a dull flicker, I will hope that it is bright enough to shine on the eyes of any children you see and show that they are having a wonderful Christmas time.

Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas.

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