My name is Anne Tiburtius and I am 44 years old, which means that I must have experienced at least 44 Christmases, even if my memories of some of them are a bit hazy. The thought that so many Christmases have passed and this still remains my favourite time of the year, has moved me to record some reasons of why this season is so special to me. Christmases in Madras, are some of the happiest memories that I have of my childhood.
The excitement would start around the 20th, when mum would start preparing the sweets and savouries. On some occasions I remember eating the sweets as fast as she was making them, but she never complained! There would be Kalkal, Adhirasam, Mysore Pak, Murruku, Mixture, Rose Cookies, Gulab Jamun and Rava Ladoo, all of which would be stored in huge containers, to which we had free access, and the plum cakes from Mc Rennet’s.
On the 23rd, there would be great excitement around the decoration of the house and the crib (nativity scene). This was where dad went into full alpha male mode and set about rewiring the entire house, so that the radiance of our crib would be unrivalled. There were LEDs that took on the role of fireflies, carved tables that took on the shape of mountains and little puff balls of cotton for snow. Mum’s best silk sarees would also be requisitioned to decorate the front of the crib and hide the miles of wires behind the illuminations.
On the 24th, there would be some last minute preparations of sweets, delivery of cakes etc. As usual, there would be new clothes, which in those days of expensive ready made garments, had to be stitched. This added a delicious layer of tension to the whole drama of Christmas. I remember one year, our tailor Iqbal- a practising Muslim, who obviously did not grasp the importance of greeting the baby Jesus in new clothes, turned up with beautifully tailored garments, after we had returned from midnight mass! After mass, we would have slices of rich plum cake and wine, and open our presents.
The next morning, groggy from lack of sleep and full of excitement, Iggy and I would wake up at around 9 am, to delicious smells emanating from the kitchen. Christmas breakfast was a real feast and I am really not sure how my mother, (a creature who needed to get to bed by 9 pm to be fully sane and functional) managed to wake up in time to manufacture this bacchanalian feast. There was usually something special like Suzhiyam, Kesari, poori with savoury potatoes, crispy dosai with chicken curry. I am still unsure as to why the baby Jesus has to be greeted by such a copious amount of carbohydrate, but Dad, Iggy and I thought it was the bee’s knees and knocked it all back with gusto!
After breakfast, mum would lay sweets and savouries beautifully on trays for all the neighbours and friends. The very pleasant job of delivering these fell to the children of the houses. We would put on our shiny new clothes and take the trays around, be pinched on the cheeks by various aunties and uncles and supplement our substantial breakfast further, by snacking on sweets from other friends’ houses and comparing the quality thereof. Needless to say that my mum always came out tops!
In the evening, as tradition would have it, all the children got together to put on a full length entertainment show for the grown-ups. There would be a musical nativity play, dancing, singing, games, comedy acts etc. and even in those days of basic technology, the quality of the entertainment was great. Our mums and dads were wonderful in never complaining about the clothes we freely purloined from their wardrobe, various props taken from various houses and the general absence of serenity in the proceedings!
The evening’s entertainment would be followed by a wonderful spread of food, magicked up by all the mums and hungrily devoured by all the people that were gathered, and the air of happiness was contagious.
There was not a huge amount of money spent on Christmas, but the effort that my parents put into decorating the crib, making the sweets, playing carols, getting the family together, allowing us to have a small sip of wine with the cake after midnight mass, and taking us to see the Christmas decorations at the old Spencers, all gave us that sense of excitement, anticipation and Christmas magic!
Written by Anne Tiburtius
Posted on 23/12/2011