This Christmas Thing

OK, I don’t feel ready for Christmas, this year. But then, I never do.

I always buy charity Christmas cards (by the way, Youth Opportunities Unlimited has a great range of bright and beautiful cards this year) and send them out to dozens of friends and family (mostly overseas, so it costs a fortune in postage). I always feel “virtual” Christmas cards are a bit of a cop-out, since I only communicate with many of these people once or twice a year. They deserve something in their hand – something they can display on their mantelpiece or hang from the beams in the ceiling, as my sister does in her old English farmhouse. It’s a touch of Jamaica, bright and cheerful on a cold winter’s morning in New York or London.

It’s a ritual I enjoy. I write my cards in strict alphabetical order, so people whose surnames begin with “A” have a much better chance of getting their card on time than the “W”s. And I have to fill one half of the card with stuff like, “It’s been another busy year for us…” or “What, Christmas already?” and the obligatory updates on son’s and husband’s welfare. Variations on a theme, really. I usually just about get them finished by around December 20, which means of course that some are going to be, well, late. And this despite my husband’s gentle reminders: “I notice you haven’t started on your Christmas cards yet, dear…”

One of the gorgeous bright Christmas cards available this year from Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Look up their Facebook page for more information!

One of the gorgeous bright Christmas cards available this year from Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Look up their Facebook page for more information!

And no, I haven’t. That’s one of many reasons why I don’t feel ready for Christmas. No, never.

Oh, happy Thanksgiving by the way to all my friends and readers in the United States! And happy Hannukah, which coincides this year, to all our Jewish friends too. The Festival of Lights – how beautiful. Actually I am drawn to the Thanksgiving celebration for a number of reasons: I like it because God doesn’t intrude too much into the proceedings. I like to think we are giving thanks to Mother Earth, to the Universe, to whatever Spirit we may or may not subscribe to. We are just thankful, and it simply appeals to me on that level, philosophically. And it’s about family, more than anything else – which I happen to believe is very important, in my old-fashioned way. Plus, I am rather fond of roast turkey (which in England we always ate on Christmas Day, at home).

Hanukkah

happy-thanksgiving

But back to Christmas. There is the food. Firstly, I am not crazy about sorrel, the traditional Christmas drink in Jamaica. I will only drink it if there is nothing else. It has a medicinal quality, and to reduce that taste, it is often made too sweet. But I dutifully sip it when I have to. And I dislike Christmas cake. I have an incredibly sweet tooth so I should love sorrel and cake, shouldn’t I? But I just don’t like the taste. If it had brandy butter with it, maybe. But Jamaicans don’t do brandy butter.

Jamaican sorrel drink is made from the flowers of a native hibiscus species.

Jamaican sorrel drink is made from the flowers of a native species, hibiscus sabdariffa. 

On the plus side there is the ham. Local Jamaican ham is incredibly delicious and juicy and makes me give up the idea of becoming a vegetarian, just yet. I am so tired of chicken, which we eat all year round until it’s coming out of our ears. And I miss the aforementioned turkey, cooked the way my mother used to do it. But the ham makes up for all this.

Glazed, baked, whatever you do with it, real Jamaican ham is (to quote the Colonel) finger-lickin' good...

Glazed, baked, whatever you do with it, real Jamaican ham is (to quote the Colonel) finger-lickin’ good…

I don’t drink for health reasons so that is also quite boring of me, isn’t it? I will have a sip of wine (or preferably champagne) and just now, looking at a link in Carib Journal with all kinds of rum punch recipes, I licked my lips. Jamaicans are fond of egg nog at Christmas – an old-fashioned English thing – but I have always found it too rich and sickly. So, on Christmas Day we will be going to a nearby hotel, which boasts an enormous buffet: a huge range of delights. Something to look forward to.

Here's an interesting recipe from Carib Journal: 1.5 oz Appleton Estate Reserve 2-3 oz Unfiltered apple cider 1 barspoon of spiced butter* Garnish: Grated Nutmeg Glass: Footed Tempered Glass/Mug Preparation: Steam until butter dissolves, and serve. Spiced butter: 4oz butter, 3oz orgeat, 3oz maple syrup, 1 tsp pumpkin spices, pinch nutmeg, pinch cloves, pinch cinnamon. Heat in a pot to combine then chill in refrigerator

Here’s an interesting recipe from Carib Journal: 1.5 oz Appleton Estate Reserve 2-3 oz Unfiltered apple cider 1 barspoon of spiced butter Garnish: Grated Nutmeg Glass: Footed Tempered Glass/Mug Preparation: Steam until butter dissolves, and serve. Spiced butter: 4oz butter, 3oz orgeat, 3oz maple syrup, 1 tsp pumpkin spices, pinch nutmeg, pinch cloves, pinch cinnamon. Heat in a pot to combine then chill in refrigerator.

And now it comes down to it, what else has Christmas got going for it, for me personally? We are not church-goers, and sitting with eyelids propped open for Midnight Mass (complete with a long, droning sermon) always seems like self-inflicted torture to me. So all that stuff is out. There are one or two parties; but fewer and fewer in Kingston these days, due to what we like to call the “economic downturn” (which seems to be a permanent fixture these days). To make matters worse, the local television Christmas ads started early this year, to drum up business. They are more annoying than ever. The jingles are nerve-wracking. Young women bounce around Christmas trees, dressed as elves in red tights – red tinsel, red glitter, everything swathed in red. I reach for the mute button instantly.

NO MORE RED, please!! There are Jamaican equivalents of this tackiness, everywhere.

NO MORE RED, please!! There are Jamaican equivalents of this tackiness, everywhere.

When our son was young, Christmas was fun. We would buy him all kinds of odd little presents. We would spend all day decorating the Christmas tree, smashing a few glass balls along the way. My husband would spend hours checking the Christmas lights (there were always those dead bulbs that spoiled the whole thing) – that was always his job. We would buy pots of poinsettias (a local plant, of course) and over-priced imported decorations. We would watch videos and kitschy children’s Christmas shows on television, and cook up a storm. My husband would go downtown to “Grand Market” (there is still a watered-down version of this, I believe) and revel in his childhood memories of Christmas in Kingston. My parents spent at least one or two Christmases with us here in Jamaica – which, all by itself, was awesome.

A Grand Market stall in downtown Kingston.

A Grand Market stall in downtown Kingston.

But let me return to the “giving thanks” part of this season, for a minute. There is so much to appreciate, after all. The sunlight lies gently on the tiny leaves of our lignum vitae tree with its heart-shaped orange fruits hanging like clusters of earrings. When I was hanging the washing out a short while ago, a Jamaican Oriole came down to sit on a branch of the mango tree and sang me a soft, conversational song. (Yes, people probably think I’m crazy talking to the birds – but they talk to me). Our dog lies down in her favorite spot on the front lawn every afternoon, sniffing the air, gazing round quietly (with the occasional bark if someone passes by). The “Christmas breeze” stirs, unobtrusive. The sky is a faded blue, decorated with harmless, fluffy clouds. The light ripens softly as the day declines into a pink sunset. The air is calm. The doves coo softly.

Zenaida Doves pottering around in our yard. They are always in twos...

Zenaida Doves pottering around in our yard. They are always in twos…

And there are people – especially my family (present, absent and passed on) – and the Jamaican people, in all their confusion and craziness. What more could I really want?

Evening time at home.

Evening time at home.

But why do I feel as if Christmas is some huge hurdle to climb over? I think it’s just about getting old. The memories begin to crowd the room, breathing in all the oxygen. It’s almost claustrophobic. I just need to accept that it is what it is.

Any tips for surviving Christmas would be welcome. And roll on, 2014!

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16 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    My gosh!!! This post is so descriptive I can feel every detail that you’ve described! Reminds me of Puerto Rico, where I come from. Would love to try that hibiscus drink!
    Back to your main thought …. I never feel ready for Xmas either!!
    It arrives so fast and it’s done even faster!! It’s bittersweet …. I look forward to it but I can’t wait to get over it.
    Wonderful post. Thx for sharing!!

    • Thanks SO much! I really appreciate the reblog! I am glad you enjoyed my post – just a few personal thoughts, really. I do feel relieved when it Christmas is past, I must say! Thank you so much for your comments. Do they have sorrel (hibiscus) in Puerto Rico I wonder? It grows wild here.

  2. As a child I remember attending the Grand Market stall in downtown Kingston, I miss that. Whenever, I tell my son about my early experience of the island holiday spirit he looks at me if I am crazy. This article just reminded me of how sane I am. LOL

  3. Reading your post makes me think of how much our backgrounds shape our lives. I am Jamaican, born and bred, and only dutifully drink a bit of sorrel at Christmas. It’s not my favourite thing. But I love good Christmas cake and down copious amounts of it each Christmas. As a mostly Christian country, our religious traditions are important to many of us. Please don’t judge us harshly for honest biblical beliefs and traditions–as long as they don’t hurt and discriminate against others. Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    • Donna, I was also brought up with a “religious” Christmas, Midnight Mass etc – so I am not judging anyone. I didn’t mean it to sound that way! That side of Christmas is just not for me, and has not been for a long time! But I guess Christmas has lost a lot of its appeal for me. I miss my family (especially my parents, who passed on a few years ago) and our son who lives overseas. I even miss the cold weather! I think it is part of getting older though – Christmas consists mainly of memories, for me.

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