Saturday, December 14, 2013

’Twas the night before Christmas

I USED TO BELIEVE IN SANTA. Christmas was the most magical time of the year. My parents made sure of that as they covertly prepared for Santa to arrive and leave gifts for us.
   By early December, the anticipation of the imminent arrival of Santa Claus would start building. Mum would put up a modest tree and I was enchanted by the home-made decorations and baubles. Later on I would take over this role and we always used a tree with twisted wire over green bristles. I would make some of the decorations and the treasured boxes of painted baubles, snowflakes and angels would be unwrapped again. The tree would be topped with a star and lit with wondrous flickering lights. I couldn’t wait for it to get dark so the lights could be turned on and I would sit on the rattan chair and take in this whole magical tableau.
   The Carmelite nuns would present the family a Nativity crib and that would be placed under the tree. The nuns would create the scene from cut-out Christmas cards. The crib would be thatched and the scene completed with straw in the manger where the baby Jesus lay.
   The anticipation would get too much and I would hang up my stocking (a woven rattan bag or a batik sarong hooked up against the door knob of my bedroom door. I would examine the stocking at various times to see if Santa had come for a reconnoitre. Mum and Dad kept on telling me not to be over-anxious, I would scare Santa away.

YES, I WAS SO EXCITED ON CHRISTMAS EVE! I was told to go to bed early as we had a big day ahead in the morning. Mum and Dad would get ready to go to Midnight Mass. I would climb into bed under the mosquito net. Mum and Dad had left the bedroom door open and through the mosquito net, I could see the lights on the Christmas tree flickering away as I tried to count how many phases it went through.
   Mum and Dad made sure that I knew they had left out a glass of beer (for Santa) and milk (for the reindeer). As I drifted into Christmas slumberland, I could hear faint scrapping outside. I was too nervous to get up and peek out the window as  didn’t wish to scare the reindeer crew away and miss out on Christmas presents. I found out later it was Dad who would brush the rough bristles of the big broom over the rough concrete.

’Twas the Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name...

and so the poem by Clement Clarke Moore continues.
IT WAS LIKE AWAKENING from the best childhood dream. It’s barely half past five on Christmas morning and I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The Christmas tree lights were still flickering. I could make out my covering mosquito net looked different! I gazed up and there it was, Christmas presents and toys hanging from the mosquito net.
   I would yelp with delight and started calling out to Mum and Dad, “Santa has been! Santa has been!” Mum and Dad would come rushing in, and shared in my excitement, though I’m sure they would have preferred some more kip as they returned from Midnight Mass just before 2am.
  I would take in the wonderland I was in and instead of tearing down the mosquito net, I unhooked each toy one by one, excited and happy beyond belief. I didn’t want Mum and Dad to help, I wanted to savour the moment. My parents just watched me, they had given their son the best Christmas ever, until the next Christmas of course, until one of my older cousins told me that Santa didn’t exist. Childhood innocence died that fateful day.
   But there’s more, the stocking sarong hanging on the doorknob was filled with presents as well, chocolates and confectionary that couldn’t be hung up inside the mosquito net.
   Mum and Dad would indulge me as I darted from door to under the mosquito net. I began to take in all the gifts I had been given and I didn’t want that moment to end, ever.
   Of course no scene would be complete without confirming the fact Santa and his team of reindeer had been. The beer glass would be half full, all the milk was gone because there was Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem and of course the leader of the pack, Rudolf!

THIS IS THE FIRST CHRISTMAS we will spend without my Dad. It will be all the more poignant this Christmas as we remember him, and what Mum and Dad has done for us as the best parents you could ever wish for. I will always treasure my most precious Christmas memory, and yearn for the times when the world was less brutal than what life has thrown up for some of us now.

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