My Fondest Christmas Memories: A letter to my Family

Happy Christmas Family!
As I was driving home from work earlier this week, the hosts on the radio talk show that I was tuned in to, started reminiscing on their fondest Christmas memories. That started me thinking…what are my own fondest Christmas memories?  I smiled as I recalled them and thought that it would be nice to share with the Circle of Truth and my own children. 
So I’ve just dressed the ham and popped it back into the oven. Rachael and I have done a callaloo quiche and made red velvet cupcakes, Nicholas and I cooked ackee and saltfish, Dave seasoned a roaster and jerked a chicken for Christmas Eve snacking, and I’ve cut up and seasoned some sirloin for beef and pineapples tomorrow.  So while I wait for everything to cool before I close the kitchen for the night, I figured that this would make a great time to write.
When I think of Christmas, my absolutely fondest memory is of Christmas morning service at Holy Innocents church in La Digue, Grenada. We went a few times I think…as visitors to the island at first, and later when we lived there.  Christmas mornings were damp and cool and dark. That Grenada smell, that La Digue smell…cocoa, nutmeg, wet grass, served as the back drop for this Christmas morning experience.  We got hot cocoa and off we went to this beautiful chapel with the outstanding acoustics. The chapel had a real bell that was rung. Greetings were friendly and familial, offered in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the peace of Christmas morning.  We sang traditional carols and recited the liturgy. There was something majestic yet comforting about the rituals in this Church of England, encouraging reflection and worship. I loved everything about Christmas morning at Holy Innocents in Grenada.
Right alongside my fond memories of Christmas morning in that old chapel in Grenada are my memories of the annual Jamaica Defence Force carol services. The open air carol service in Up Park Camp, Jamaica, held on the polo field, under a canopy of light bulbs strung end to end across the field marked the beginning of Christmas for us. The military band transformed those old standards into anthems and we sang along lustily. Soldiers, some nervous as hell, did the readings. We laughed at the errors they made, and squirmed anxiously awaiting the grand climax at the end: the singing of “Silent Night” when all the lights went out leaving only lit candles and the stars in the heavens as our light. It was so beautiful. It was so regal. I really felt lucky and privileged to be there. And the moment the final benediction was offered,  we children scrambled to collect programs left behind. The winner was the one who collected the most programs. Simple fun, moments that became part of the kaleidoscope of my own life’s experiences.
The best gift I’ve ever received was that Christmas when we got scooters. “We” consisted of Jaimie, Abby and me. Joe, Anna and Sam weren’t born yet.  I had no idea that we were going to get them. I remember jumping on that thing in my red and white long nightie Christmas morning, hair flying behind me as I scooted by.  What joy! I can’t remember ever receiving another gift that matched that one in my opinion (except for a Princess Leia doll that Auntie Maggie gave me…I loved that doll for many, many years.)
Christmas eatings were always a huge production. I suppose coming from such a huge family meant that this was inevitable. Recollection of the details are hazy.  We always had ham, rice and peas and a whole heap more dishes. We drank sorrel. We shelled gungu peas from Daddy’s garden until our fingers were black.  We cleaned sorrel again from Daddy’s garden, our poor little hands prickly for hours after with the fine hairs that came off the sorrel flowers. The shelling and cleaning were done in the days leading up to Christmas in a circle characterized by a whole heap of talking and joking, sometimes while watching TV.
    
Grandma baked her special fruit cakes. Fruits were soaked for weeks prior.  On baking day she solemnly took down the yabba. We children were pressed into creaming butter and sugar. If I close my eyes now I can bring to mind the smells of her baking: the fruits, the rose water, the spices… I am not a fruit cake/Christmas cake fan, but Grandma’s cake… ah boi…
And there was Sgt. Riley’s Christmas cake, which sat in all its glory on the sideboard, begging to be cut every time we walked past. This Christmas cake, encased in Riley’s special royal icing, was eaten over the course of weeks from December to January. It was the never ending cake.
I remember the crowds. Yes, crowds.  Even as a child, I found dealing with my large family stressful. Seriously. I think this is why I can’t remember Christmas dinner details. The thought of the work associated with staging this family dinner brought on instant fatigue and an overwhelming desire to just lock myself in my room until it was all over.  And you know that the guest list was never confined to just family.  Mummy and Daddy always had an extended guest list: officers under daddy’s command, the unattached and less fortunate people from the church.  Our parents set an excellent example of extending one’s self, one that, to be truthful, I haven’t really emulated. I remain firmly in my own comfort zone of small gatherings at Christmas, unwilling to take on the stress of hosting huge affaires. I’ll do better, guys…maybe J 
I took a break just before the paragraph above to sample the ham. We all did! Delicious as expected. I’m back. Tomorrow we’ll have breakfast: callaloo quiche, mushroom frittata, ham, ackee and saltfish, waffles, coffee and orange juice.  Then we’ll have dinner.  Mrs. Mac, Dianne and JJ, and my former colleague and friend Claude will round out the guest list. We’ll have ham, roasted chicken, bread and bacon stuffing, sweet n sour beef, curried shrimp, roasted veggies, salad, candied sweet potatoes, green gungu rice n peas, roasted beet and corn salad.  It will be fun.  The children will open their gifts. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get a gift too! Sometimes I feel guilty that I haven’t done such a good job at teaching my children to extend themselves at Christmas.  I hope that they have fond memories of Christmas and create traditions of their own too.
Well, it’s almost midnight. Off to lock up the kitchen and put away stuff. Happy Christmas, Guys.  I love you all. 

Kelly

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