Life Abroad – Part 7 : CHRISTMAS OR “KISS MAS”?
Posted on December 20th, 2012

Dr. Tilak Fernando

The first Christmas in London was something to look forward to from what I had read about in books but not seen. The traditional Christmas preparation and celebration that I had seen at home as an adolescent was quite different to what I saw in England.

Christmas in Moratuwa (Koralawella) was quite different. On a Christmas morning, I woke up to the screaming “ƒ”¹…”alarms’ or rather the screeching death pangs of pigs while being slaughtered by “ƒ”¹…”Aaron Bada’ (nick named Kusa Rajjuruwo) for sale.

What I could not stomach was to watch a “ƒ”¹…”respectable’ gentleman (bless his soul), who after prayers in the church coming back home and cutting the throat of a rooster for his Christmas lunch.

It nauseates me even now to visualise how he trampled both legs of the bird and put a kitchen knife across the animal’s throat several times until the head and the body of the bird danced separately for a while. He then enjoyed Christmas with a bottle of arrack with his neighbour, had chicken curry for lunch and hit the pillow around 14 hrs for a long nap to sober himself. That was Christmas for him! (God Bless!)

To me, even as a young man, that type of behaviour was unacceptable which I thought was going against the very words of Jesus Christ: “And if your right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell (Matthew 5:30 )”.

Apart from the domestic scene mentioned above, Christmas to some of the Koralawella folk was to get drunk and stagger along the main road, with half raised sarongs and either singing or challenging others with Dutch courage out of Arrack! Invariably some ended up in a fracas or falling on the road side being fully intoxicated with liquor.

Celebration of a different kind

Christmas for the English is a family occasion where relations come under one roof and enjoy the Christmas cheer. Christmas trees are an integral part of the festival decorations in most British households.

The tree is normally decorated with lights, tinsel, baubles and the obligatory angel/fairy on the top. Mistletoe also forms part of the Christmas decorations. Since ancient times, according to European myths, ancient Druids recognised its miraculous powers to cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft. Modern-day custom of hanging a bunch of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it is regarded as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

Exchange of gifts which made Christmas a special occasion came about during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Gifts

On the eve of Christmas children went to bed with full of excitement and hopes of Santa visiting through their Chimney breasts. In a ritualistic manner parents too got drawn into the game of filling stockings with presents and left those under the Christmas tree.

In the morning housewives went through the excitement and stress of cooking special Christmas lunch which was the traditional Turkey while children woke up with the enthusiasm to open their presents. It was not unusual at all to see the some parents ending up losing their cool and start telling the children off when fighting among kids began when the battery life of toys ran out within hours.

The traditional Christmas lunch consisted of Roast turkey with stuffing, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with gravy, roast potatoes with a mixture of vegetables and a salad, Christmas pudding and minced pies. The characteristic of British Christmas tradition of sipping the first alcoholic drink started around 11 am by the men folk while women enjoyed their wine and sherry or vermouth with their lunch which went on till late afternoon and ending up with coffee and a glass of liquor.

All the booze and the rich food meant that around 4 pm the head of the family lost the battle to keep his eyes open, and those who snore began to annoy others and those who managed to stay awake played board games. All the excitement and hype which began two-three weeks prior to Christmas came to a close around 23.45 hours on Christmas night when all lights went out.

During medieval times the custom was for every priest to empty the alms box of his church and distribute gifts to the poor on the Boxing Day (26th).

Although Boxing Day is still a public holiday in Britain the perception seemed to have changed now with shops and supermarkets opening for business and recognised Departmental stores such as Harrods and John Lewis, (among others) open their doors for their “ƒ”¹…”end of the year clearance sales’ for which some people queued up for 24 hours prior to the sale by sleeping rough at the door step of the legendary Harrods, the up market departmental store at Knightsbridge, London.

Sending greeting cards at Christmas has turned out to be a fashionable social significance at present with conditioning of the modern folk’s mindset to reciprocate. In offices too, it has turned into a “ƒ”¹…”ritual’ where one is compelled to give a card to all working colleagues even if they hate the other person and wish they were dead!

Christmas gifts which originated from pre-Christian tradition varied from candles, sweets, evergreen branches (given as symbols of continuous health and strength) and gold coins for good luck. But today it has taken a 360 degree turn and the gifts what people give as “ƒ”¹…”Christmas presents’, for the sake of giving a souvenir, can vary from useless bits and pieces to expensive items, in “ƒ”¹…”keeping up with the joneses’.

From the middle of December Christmas fever starts to grow in Britain where all work places organise their individual Christmas parties ending up with lunches (with individual contributions) either at a restaurant or within the office premises with food brought from home voluntarily. Office Christmas party means it starts around 11.30 am and goes on till about 15 hours without any work in office and staff dispersing afterwards.

During such parties those who become merry with sherry or wine tend to hug each other and wish their colleagues a “ƒ”¹…”Merry Christmas’, while the “ƒ”¹…”innocent’ have to put up with the strong BO (body odour) of male colleagues or the repugnant aromas of cheap female fragrances.

It’s ironic that only once a year people tend to be considerate, courteous, exhibit their love and extend their goodwill to fellow human beings in the name of Jesus Christ and kiss each other wishing a “ƒ”¹…”Merry Christmas’, which in my book I have always thought it would be more appropriate to call it an occasion to “ƒ”¹…”Kiss Mas’ (Kiss flesh!)

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