Christmas has always been my favourite period of the year; I enjoy every single aspect of it. From the hope and joy I get from the celebration of the religious feast to the more mundane aspects like cooking, shopping for gifts, playing Secret Santa at work, buying the famous Christmas lottery ticket with friends and colleagues…
But no matter where I go or live, I will never forget the Christmases I spent as a child with my family in Nigeria. The characteristic smell that accompanied the dry harmattan wind at the end of November was always a sign of what was to come and by mid-December, we kids would be sent out to scout for an attractive looking branch of a pine tree that would serve as a natural Christmas tree. We would politely knock on the gate of the owner and ask if we could cut a branch which would then be unceremoniously dragged home through the dusty streets (small wonder that we never got an unpleasant surprise in the form of a resident snake). My mother being Spanish incorporated her own traditions into our household and we would decorate the tree and beneath it, place a wooden nativity scene. Each child would bake something for the festive days and on the 24th of December, there would be a very special dinner just like the Spanish tradition as opposed to just celebrating the 25th like in Nigeria. Lots of food was made to ensure that there would be no cooking or almost no cooking the next day and some years we would go for midnight Mass and others the next day. Either way, before going to bed, we would each put out our shoes and barely sleep that night. I was always one of the first to wake up and rush to see what had magically appeared on my shoes (until my brother kindly shared his findings that our parents provided the gifts, this discovery only dampened my enthusiasm shortly though as I am still the first to wake up and investigate till this day). We would then open them together and have breakfast afterwards. Then people would come to visit and there was always something edible to share with them. “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” would often be heard on the street as people shouted out their well wishes at the top of their voices and the shops in the market would be decorated with motifs for the season as happy shoppers listened to Boney M´s Christmas Carols in the highest possible volume.
For the past “x” years (no need to be too precise here), I have celebrated Christmas in Spain, and except for the cold weather that I do not look forward to, there is still that general sense of hope and love in the air. Family comes around on the 24th and I plan an elaborate menu (with of course help), I put out the manger that is very special to me as it was painted with family and friends (I still have to get around to painting the three wise men so I can expand the nativity scene) but not the tree anymore as it is too much work to put up and take down (plus the cat does not need more distractions).
And though part of my family is far away, there are traditions we share that erase the existing physical distance; Russian salad and fried rice are a constant at our Christmas table, we go for midnight Mass when we can, carols are played and thought I have adopted the tradition of gifts being exchanged on the 6th instead of the 25th; I still leave out my shoes for the three wise men to leave me something on their way to visit the baby Jesus. I wish all the readers of this blog a Merry Christmas, may our memories always remain with us and make us smile (especially the good ones).