Memories of Childhood Christmases
                        By Dr Remy Perumal retired Consultant Physician & Freelance Journalist


It hasn't been the best of times! Headlines in the UK today, are dominated by the gloomy economic forecasts and the uncertainties of Brexit. Interestingly, the weather has taken an arctic turn. In this climate of uncertainty, the traditional family, so embattled by social and cultural change, will have to 'tighten its belt'. The trimmings at Christmas - the fanfare and festivities will inevitably be subdued. Now, more than ever we should embrace the comforting traditions of the true spirit of Christmas reminisce in those structured certainties of our childhood Christmases.
   Let's take a trip down memory lane and recall the Christmases in the early 1950's, in our family home in Kotahena. They were halcyon days when Christmas were not all 'Tinsel & Turkey'. Manic credit card fuelled spending sprees were unheard of. Finances, family traditions and religious convictions moulded our expectations and our approach to the celebrations.
   Christmas preparations had many facets to it. Houses were given a face lift - walls colour washed, doors, gates and windows painted and furniture varnished. Polishing of floors continued well into the evening of Christmas eve.
   Family Christmas shopping was done in one afternoon, on a week day, in early December. Dad took the afternoon off, and the rest of the family joined him in Pettah. Starting with clothing materials, shoes and toys, was then.
   The Colombo Chetty Carols was a highlight of the Christmas Season. We were participating choristers. Weekly rehearsals for the carols commenced in September, leading to a grand practice on the Sunday before Christmas. At that final rehearsal, each of the four parts, had instrumental accompaniment.
   The Christmas cake was made in early December. The preliminary process of mixing the ingredients was followed a few days later by the making of the cake itself. Home baking was not the norm - once made, the cake was transported by rickshaw, to the trusted local bakery and handed over to the baker, with special instructions . The baked cake was ready for collection, the same evening.
   On Christmas eve our kitchen was a hive of activity - Mum would be hands on, preparing Christmas lunch. Turkey and trimmings were not on our Christmas menu. The spread consisted of Yellow Rice, chicken curry, beef satay, seeni sambol, pickle, cooked aubergines and rolled cutlets.
   By 10pm on Christmas eve the family was ready for Midnight Service. Mum attended Mass at St. Lucia's Cathedral. Dad, my brothers and I walked to the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows. Officiating to packed congregations, when the Celebrants' sang 'Gloria in exelcelsis Deo,' with the pealing of church bells, the atmosphere outside the church would turn electric - in the streets, the deafening sound of crackers and fireworks and from the nearby Colombo Fort Harbour, a prolonged blast of ships sirens.
   From leading the carolling congregation at Midnight Mass, the choristers and accompanying musicians had a brief break for refreshments and then embarked on their 'carolling tour' in the special bus arranged for the purpose. Two senior members of the Colombo Chetty Community would direct the driver of the Carol Bus to each of the sixty designated addresses. At each house, the two seniors knocked on doors and wished the occupants, whilst the choir sang two carols from the repertoire.




   This joyful exercise of house to house carol singing concluded about 6.00am on Christmas morning. On returning home we had breakfast, opened our Christmas presents and had a well earned sleep.
   Again at midday, it was time to light crackers - for at least half an hour, the whole neighbourhood, was deafened by the loud noise .
   Christmas lunch - that impressive spread of culinary delights prepared by mum, was enjoyed by the family. It was then siesta time. 'Christmas visiting' -it was customary to visit the family elders - we visited our surviving grandparents late afternoon on Christmas Day and returned home in the evening, to receive visiting relatives.
   During Christmas week, every evening we had a steady stream of visitors. We the children looked forward to receiving gifts on our family visits, just as the children visiting our home, were given gifts.
   New Year's Eve celebrations started with a well attended evening Service at the Cathedral. The New Year, once again, was heralded by loud noise of crackers, fireworks and sound of ships sirens reverberating in the midnight air. There were revellers in the streets whilst the more affluent, celebrated in the main hotels.
   These are memories of Christmases we cherish, not for the echoing, wax scented churches with the carolling congregations, but, because, those were Christmases, without the hype and mania focussed on the 'must have' in gifts, food and festivities. We celebrated the religious significance of Christmas.