Pretty paper, ribbons, trees full of shiny things, lights, the smell of cinnamon and sugar, presents, parents, friends, food... it’s all very well to act post-modern and cynical, but the truth is that Christmas is fun, no matter how corny or commercial it gets.
Why is it only Christmas that does this? Yes, I did grow up in a small town with a sizeable churchgoing population. I have gone carol singing in December, with people I've known all my life, my breath rising in clouds before me as I sang Jingle Bells off-key. I know how good wine and cake taste in the cold. I’ve been to midnight mass in a small town church, where it always felt like Mary’s boy child was born just a few minutes earlier and the world was about to change for the better.
But I’m not Christian (and not particularly religious in any direction), nor have I lived in a predominantly Christian country. I have no warm-hearth childhood memories of sparkly trees, eggnog or chestnuts roasting on open fires. I’m not entirely sure what a chestnut is. I definitely haven’t known a working fireplace. The only snow I’ve seen is artificial, and that only last year. Nevertheless, all the Diwali lamps in the world cannot induce the aching combination of anticipation, nostalgia and glee that the words “white Christmas” evoke effortlessly.
Is it because it’s the only festival that’s celebrated in the only language that’s truly mine and the written word has always been more real to me than reality?
Or is it that I do have the memories? Not of chimneys and stockings, but of the spirit of it all. Life filled to the brim with brother, parents, dogs and a great many friends of all. Large-hearted dinner parties always full of familiar people. Equally large-hearted arguments to enliven it all. Cocooned in a peaceful suburb, a sense of security that’s absorbed into the bone, forever. Parents who were generous with laughter. Houses that were generous with space. Life that was generous with time. It was chaotic, crowded, noisy and fun. A lot like Christmas, in fact.
And may all our Christmases be white.
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