It’s hard to get excited about Christmas when words like “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” make me want to sweat more. It’s early December in Makassar and we find ourselves once again staving off rainy season by expecting it to start any day. The humidity refuses to let my smalls dry while the heat saps me of moisture. I’m a mummy in sodden wrappings lurching into mall foyers to be confronted by regiments of plastic pine trees surrounded by an entourage of other miscellaneous plastic decorations.
In keeping with the season, my heart goes out to others: the poor cashiers, victims of a management meeting demand, they sport musical antlers, not-quite-there Santa hats and flashing Rudolph noses. A young, portly girl does a double take and announces like a town crier, “He looks like a monkey!” Her cruel laughter endures into the supermarket aisles.
Meanwhile, on street corners outside, skeletal crones stand propped on sticks with begging bowls, some hoping the season will loosen purse strings, most oblivious to the hype. Constipated clouds gather above, promising months of drear ahead and an end to their livelihoods. And then I’m supposed to look at an irrepressibly jolly fat man in a fiery, red survival suit and feel cheerful?
Humbug. But as I sit here struggling to find a meaningful point, I’m being visited…
I have charged memories of Christmases past. The air was thick with excitement: school plays, Christmas calendars in the days when they didn’t need to be stuffed with cheap chocolate to be rewarding, presents growing under the tree like watching geology in time lapse, making the Christmas pudding with mum while getting sozzled on the ingredients, the opulent feed. And of course I remember getting the Millennium Falcon and that 1:24 scale model Lancaster Bomber – best presents ever! And I remember the frost-clad adventure of the single day I always gave myself to Christmas shop with all the money I had (not because I’m generous, just hated work).
And then there was that university summer break I laboured on a Sussex farm, curiously maintaining actual legions of commercial Christmas trees, while helping renovate a 13th century manor. Those I worked for and with were no nonsense, old money grafters. I remember old Mike Pike imparting on me how winters were spent in times past; how Christmas perpetuated from pagan ways when transport ceased in mud and the solstice called for a gruelling celebration to break the monotony and spur folks on to the spring; to raise the cheer in the inevitable face of livestock, produce and family succumbing to the elements. Gratitude warms me when I consider how easy I’ve had it. I recoil in the present. It’s not just how little I can or want to give to Scrooge’s “surplus population”, it’s the raw reality of the privileged young whom I teach. They just don’t get it.
Meticulous church-goers, not one can explain what Christmas is historically or spiritually about. And when asked what their worst bugaboos about Christmas are, they have nothing to say. And when asked what they love, they still have nothing. Something different is eaten because it’s expected. Their homes are adorned with plastic stuff, which impregnates them with a sense of anticipation they cannot explain. They eat to a point which sends a few over the edge of diabetes and they get a tad more spoiled than usual; unwrapping a new i-Phone or game box before disappearing into their rooms until New Year. The world beyond goes unnoticed. Gratitude warms me when I consider how easy I have it.
The future troubles me. Against the tide of rampant commercialism, loss of substance, Black Friday hysteria and peer pressure to perform, my family still has its humble roots in the kampung. This means my eldest daughter is happy with gift-wrapped chocolate (though we might push the boat out a little further this year), my youngest will get a rattle and my wife grew up getting t-shirts; all of which suit my frugal nature. But how can this last in the present described? Will, in the end, my grave be visited only by those wishing to urinate and laugh? Gratitude warms me when I… um.
My quasi humorous observation is in what a jolly serious ‘business’ Christmas has become in the world’s largest Muslim country. Personally, I will take my queue from the 13th century. My family and friends will head to a house in the mountains where there will be a bath with hot water and a fireplace (not actually that hopeful of that), roast chicken and sausages wrapped in bacon, various veggies and bread sauce, imported booze, ad hoc decorations and simple presents. We’ll have a royal good time and dispel the inevitable gloom of dreary months ahead; not just the rain, but the weather of our times: airliners shot down, natural disasters and violent lunacy on a global scale.
In truth, gratitude warms me when, for a few days a year, we can get together, celebrate and appreciate who and what we have now, and the future can wait ‘til the Panadol and liver salts have run their course. And why not? Let’s all keep Christmas in our own way and God bless each and every one of us.
And my own personal amusing observation is in how out of my element I am sounding so saccharin. I can feel my teeth rotting, but somehow Christmas demands it.
Have a decent Chrim.