As far back as I can remember, my Christmases were miserable! I always felt alone, even in the middle of preparations and Christmas partying. Growing up, Christmases were simple (we weren’t into presents and all those trimmings — we even didn’t remember each other’s birthdays!)
Christmases for us were my brothers setting up a Nativity scene made from whatever greens the neighbourhood offered, chicken stew and bread before midnight mass, cutting of a Big Sister fruitcake and drinking a small glass of wine after mass and then I went to sleep. On Christmas day, there was always food: mutton paretal, chicken curry, some vegetables, fruits and all sorts of other food which only my mother could come up with (I never picked up her community-known culinary skills!).
In the early years my brothers’ friends would visit, but as they grew up and left home, Christmases were always my mother and me and due to financial constraints, it was always simple without fanfare. And, I always felt alone.
At university in the States (I studied at the University of Wisconsin, Madison), it was worse! When December came, the campus would be deserted! You would rarely see a white face. They went home! Only the international students were left behind. Walking the streets in the winter cold and seeing the Christmas trimmings, I left incredibly alone — until I made American friends and they took me to their homes at Christmas. My best memories of America have always been with my American friends!
Coming back and working, I made the best of Christmas. Family became smaller as family members passed away. But, I would hold an open house for friends and, it, somehow, helped to forget things but as work demands increased I stopped that for lack of time to prepare for a party. Instead, I would just run off to my brother’s house in Seremban. There was always a lot of activity there at Christmas with his children and, in time, his children’s children. Though it was pleasant, I never stopped feeling this sense of being alone and disconnected. I was always waiting for Christmas to be over so that I can get on with living!
It was only in recent years that Christmases began to be enjoyable. The main reason for this, I believe, is because I finally buried all my demons. My demons gone, I began to enjoy who I really am. I was no longer stressed out by the expectations of Christmas. Whether Christmas or not, I am happy. Christmas just gives me a reason for a little extra fun. But, even, without it, I enjoy its significance, going for service, spending time with relatives and friends and buying gifts for my little relatives. I stopped feeling alone.
The best Christmas season so far has been this year. My niece and nephews gave me a Christmas present by taking me on a holiday to Seminyak, Bali. It was a lovely family time, laughing a lot, chatting, having fun activities together and eating really good meals (lots of good eating places in Seminyak and for shopping, too. And, a top-rated coffee cafe which is always crowded! It has great coffee!)
I’ll never forget how my nephews tricked me into going whitewater rafting! When they were discussing the plan, I said: “I’m not getting into a raft!” They replied, “O, don’t worry. It’s just a riverboat ride!”
Imagine my consternation, when I had to walk through wet padi fields, which, anyway, was nice, but going down steep slithery muddy paths got my anxiety levels rising! I kept shouting, “Hey! Whose great idea was this?!” But I made it to the bottom of the slope to the river below.
The “riverboat ride” was very enjoyable, mainly because everyone else did the steering, especially the guide, of course, who guided everyone and gave us a memorable experience. I sat securely in a sunken part of the raft at the back against the side of the raft. The raft was buffeted this way and that and others fell off their seats with a few actually falling into the water, but I stayed comfortably put! I was like ballast at the back anchoring the raft. You can’t see me in the picture because I’m sitting low in the raft, but you can see my upright oar, which I didn’t use, only to steer a few strokes in calm waters!
The ride was wonderful, but getting back was torture, climbing up 500 steps! Thank God my guide took my arm and helped me up! Earlier, he had also helped me down, chatting and flirting with me and I went along with it and before I knew it the anxiety was gone and I reached the river sane and later up the steps panting like crazy but recovered after 5 minutes!
It was a happy experience and a good way to enjoy Christmas. So, friends, this Christmas, if you feel alone or are out of sync with Christmas, don’t worry. Go, be with someone you are happy to be with. If there’s no such person, go to church. But, don’t be alone this Christmas.
Merry Christmas, everyone!