Call me Ebenezer Scrooge.
I’m sure many, if not all of you are asking yourselves of all the ways one could have chosen to begin a piece on Christmas memories, why would he intentionally identify himself with possibly the most cynical individual ever to be associated with the season. The answer is simple actually. It turns out the star of A Christmas Carol and I have more than a few things in common, as it relates to our attitudes towards Christmas, although our motivators are different.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my station typing a story on the 10th Sitting of the Public Accounts Committee. As I sat there musing over the gross instances of overpayments on the part of a particular government institution, I was beckoned by my editor, who shared with me her idea of carrying a Christmas special captioned “Christmas Memories”.
After explaining to me what she wanted to capture, I was asked to write one of the feature stories for the special. Suffice to say I was ecstatic. Having only worked at Stabroek News just shy of three months I was honoured that she would consider giving me this responsibility.
As she explained the idea, it seemed to me that her eyes lit up as she spoke and that she was smiling all the while. These were accompanied by the cheeriest of gesticulations; which of course seemed to indicate that she wanted ‘jolly’, happy memories of the season. As such I began to search my memory banks for my cheeriest, happiest Christmas memories. I tried to think of all the warm, cozy feelings I felt as Christmas drew near, and all of the wonderful times I experienced each Christmas season. After about two minutes of recall I realised I had a serious problem. It dawned on me that the memories that chose to answer my beck and call were far from warm and cozy.
I smiled to myself as I realised that of the memories I was able to conjure, few invoked nostalgia and a longing to relive them. Instead my head became awash with recollections of stressful, tiresome and frustrating experiences. In case you have any suspicion that what you just read is a typo—that the three words usually associated with depression were unintentionally used to describe my Christmas memories—allow me to assure you, you read correctly; no, it was not a typo.
Now, as a boy, Scrooge was abandoned by his father, who blamed him for the death of his mother who died giving birth to him. Also, during the Christmas season, while the other children went home to be with family, young Ebenezer was left on his own at school where he spent the season very lonely. As he got older he began to crave money, and valued only that. Love was only important if it made financial sense… which cost him his only true love. He even began to look down on “old Fessiwig” who loved Christmas and celebrated it with all the enthusiasm of a child, despite the fact that Scrooge thought he was foolish. He became increasingly consumed with money, and Christmas, the ultimate symbol of “giving” and love, was nothing but foolish time that caused poor people to be happy and grateful for what they had (Ebenezer thought this was stupid because in his mind they had nothing). Christmas became the enemy of everything he thought had any real importance (making money, saving money, greed).
My reasons are quite different, and far less dramatic. As a boy, and even now, this ‘festive’ season really was/is not festive for me at all. When I think Christmas I think of 3 things basically, cleaning, shopping and cooking.
As is tradition in Guyana, the weeks and days leading up to the holidays are characterised by herculean cleaning campaigns, complimented by like-sized culinary undertakings. I remember these well, mostly because they are repeated every year.
I’m pretty sure many of you can relate. The “cobwebbing” of ceilings; the scrubbing and wiping of walls to remove dirt that was never there; the picking up of carpets; transplanting of rubber tiles, and my personal favourite; the lifting of heavy furniture to facilitate these cleaning efforts as well as to finish “putting away the house”. Such a tragedy, it really should be outlawed. Images of a teenage me lifting chairs and fridges and bookshelves still harass my conscious and even some unconscious moments. I once even had a nightmare of having to lift a 500-pound sofa by myself, while my mom sat in it laughing at my suffering.
Also, when it came time to change blinds, I dreaded hearing my mother utter the words “Chevy, it’s time for us to change the blinds and clean the windows.” I always got angry when she said that because I was the one, who took down the old blinds, cleaned the windows and put up the new blinds. It was worse when the new blinds required pressing.
Shopping was catastrophic, for me anyway, but my mother seemed to love the going from store to store, scrutinising each item in detail before deciding which to buy. On more than a few occasions my mother, after visiting several stores, decided that she would return to the first store she visited to get what she wanted. Good times, good times.
Cooking was also laborious, and a task that lasted all day, at least on Christmas. Long hours of labour were invested in the kitchen preparing a wide array of delicious meals. And though I hated the cooking part, I must admit I loved the eating part, if only there was an easier way. Cake baking posed similar trials. For the four years I attended the University of Guyana I had very little to do when I was at home during the day. My mother took full advantage of this by ensuring she left tasks for me to complete in her absence, since, according to her, I had nothing better to do. As such, around Christmas I was left to “begin” creaming butter to mix the cake, which my mother would “finish off” when she returned home. Of course, by the time she got home all of the creaming was complete and all that was left to do was the adding of flour and other ingredients before being panned off and placed in the oven.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful. I am thankful for all the things my mother does/did in the effort to have a “merry Christmas,” I just wished there was a way to skip all the work, or at least the magnitude of work.
These are my most profound memories of Christmas, and the reasons I do not overflow with cheer in anticipation of its impending visit. Things have not really changed since I was a child either. There is still a big fuss over Christmas cleaning. However, these days, the cleaning is mostly left to me and my younger brother since, according to my mother, “I clean enough when ya’ll were younger, it’s time the two of ya’ll take over.”
When my friends express their eager anticipation of the season and how “giddy” they get, I usually counter with a few thoughts and feelings of my own. Thus on a couple of occasions I have been referred to as the famous Scrooge. I guess it does make sense. Unlike Scrooge, however, I doubt my attitude towards the season will change; unless of course I’m visited by three ghosts as he was.
However, before I close I will share the fondest memories I think I have. Throughout my childhood and part of my teenage years my mother and father seldom if ever ate at the dining table. However, household law dictated that my two brothers and I sit there for every meal, although one, two, or all three of us would occasionally have ourselves condemned to dining on the floor for violating table etiquette. Things changed around Christmas though. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, if memory serves, the entire family ate at the dining table, together. My father did not take up his usual positions in the chair or on his bed; he sat at the table with my mother and his three sons, and we had our meals together. It was beautiful, and a bit comical.
Breakfast and dinner usually comprised of pepper pot and bread with tea. My mother usually made a pot of tea and placed a platter of sliced homemade bread in the centre of the table. My father was a hearty eater, and so my brothers and I would at times watch with awe and sorrow and he devoured slice after slice of bread, and cup after cup of tea. Eventually we learned that we had to compete, so each of us would eat and drink as fast as we could to ensure that we got as much bread and tea as we wanted; the amount of pepper pot was usually fixed, though sometimes she would feel generous and serve second helpings. It was awesome. Now it’s just me, my younger brother and my mother. We still eat at the table together at Christmas but this pales in comparison to what used to be. All that is left of that time are the memories, and even those leave us at some time or another. So why not enjoy them while we still have them. I intend to.