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The Christmas I know-down memory lane
by Dr Elsa Lycias Joel
2015-12-30 12:02:02
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Another Christmas just passed by and memories of this festival way-back-then come gushing. Christmas reminds me of yesteryears when we lived in a small village called Neyyoor, sandwiched between the picturesque western ghats and the blue Arabian sea, in kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. Those were the days when Christmas was all about sharing. Every time the festive spirit and mood set in, the smell of murukkus, adhirasams, mundrikothus, orappam and long forgotten snacks wafted through our house. Distribution of snacks to neighbors, missionaries and friends was by itself a December affair for we never awaited Christmas Eve. Our snack containers also overflowed with stuff brought in by neighbors. Then it was the waiting of arrivals. First to arrive those days was dad’s chithappa whom we children fondly addressed as Joe thatha. He was capable of sketching almost anything he has seen. I and my elder brother took turns to voice our choices while Joe thatha patiently and professionally sketched. As a result pencil sketches of an angry dog, a shy cat, a bird in flight, Christmas trees, celebrities and lot more adorned our walls. The next entry was usually Chinnadurai mama, a soft spoken man who sounded neutral all the time even when the pendulum of opinions swung to extremes.

inid01_400But most of the time his expressive eyes did the talking. No wonder, nobody took him seriously enough. Waking up every December morning asking for Festus chithappa wouldn’t have been etched in my memory if it wasn’t amma answering our questions with a stern ‘Drink this’ except on that special day when she would wake us up whispering ‘Festus chithappa has arrived’. And then even that warm water with honey tasted good. Festus chithappa, dad’s youngest brother was special in many ways. A grizzly bear that I held so close until it was forcibly taken away, that multicolored quilt that was pulled around by friends while I sat on it and cassettes and gramophone records made him my Santa chithappa. We bounced with energy as our home sweet home overflowed with loved ones. I’m unable to make out as to when and who latched the four exterior doors. Then arrived Jerry chithappa and his family. Honestly speaking the only person in his family we awaited for, was Juno, my cousin with whom we climbed trees, wrote letters to Santa, ran around till we dropped dead tired and whiled away time. The number of people that also included cousins, increased steadily till Christmas Eve.

Bringing home a beautiful Casuarina branch itself was adventurous as it had to be cut down from a grove on a nearby mountain. Lots were cast as to which one of us would accompany a few uncles who drove to the mountain in a Willys jeep that could accommodate a very few. And the lucky one was looked upon with grudge for a few minutes after the team returned with the best branch they could get. Within the next few hours that lucky cousin with his/her imagination soaring high, became the best story teller for the next few days. Decking up the Christmas tree was an amazing way to learn tolerance because few in the group enthusiastically made changes that made the tree look weird to the other kid in the group. Too many decorators did try messing up with the tree.

Yet we stayed together till the tree sported the look of one live ‘Christmas tree’ because throughout the process of putting up the tree nobody was obsessed over getting things done his/her way or getting to the next level or getting their respective point across or moving right along. Everyone chose to be in that moment, together, as long as it lasted. I still wonder which sneaky cousin with a bad taste played foul that we had to revamp the tree on a daily basis. Or was it our cats, goat, kittens and dogs!!!!!!!!!!!Sometimes the tree even fainted.

In addition to the visiting carolers, our house always resounded of music, good music with trained singers and musicians. Thatha on organ, chithappas on guitars and appa on violin helped us discover the wonderful world of music and kindled our imagination of what heavenly music would sound like.  They took turns to play the mouth organ for everyone loved that instrument. Even those who weren’t much into music were left transfixed by the rich sounds of instruments. Appa was such good singer that he could sound like Jim Reeves or Cliff Richard or Elvis with ease. It seemed like transfiguration at its best. Chithappas were no less able and gifted. How helplessly good! They can’t be duplicated. When they sang carols together all we could do was simply sit and listen. Caroling wasn’t anything formal as they are now. We never told anybody about our visit in advance. It all happened randomly, then and there. And the hospitality used to be overwhelming. There were days when we waited for hours just bonding with families as the hosts prepared something for us to eat and drink. That’s how singing, eating, drinking and merry making was, all for love sake. That was Christmas of those days when family members untiringly travelled to be together, to share love. It was not about sparing money and time but willingness to share. Homemakers who were also lecturers and teachers not just welcomed everyone but made sure they experienced the warmth of being home once again. Nobody withheld anything when it came to sharing of life. Forget money, precious time and energy. Big thanks to that wonderful person who patiently played the Santa day after day and wrote to us letters that convinced us crackers, sparklers and fireworks only pollute and do more harm. No matter what we asked for, we found all kinds of useful presents not beneath the Christmas tree but on our dining table that could hold enough of them for more than a dozen kids. Church didn’t find a mention here because Dartsmouth chapel was our other home. Our reason for growing together and stronger.

Late evening walks around Neyyoor would tell us how our small village went big and all out for Christmas with small decorated trees on either side of narrow streets and roads and this tradition was kindled years ago by British missionaries like Kathleen Janet Mcilroy, Dr. T H Somervell, Dr. Thomson and his wife Mrs. Liddel Thomson, Rev. Charles Mead and Rev I H Hacker who made their homes here. Then, missionary doctors healed minds and hearts too.

Every small hut, along the banks of a small channel that flowed past Minchin Street, shined and sparkled, the reflections of which were echoed by the waters. To us kids, except for a ride on “The Polar Express”, every other magical moment of a perfect Christmas seemed so real. The children least of all could not be disappointed. That was certain.


But for amma’s and appa’s heart of gold, those memorable Christmas reunions wouldn’t have taken place. Isn’t Christmas all about the unconditional love the Father bestowed on us!

Evidences of love do not lie, do they?!

Neyyoor still holds the sounds, sights, wonder and love that Christmas brings.

When I was just about to settle with the thought that those days are gone, I was proved wrong. This person who I call ‘my favorite uncle’ walked in with a wide grin and a bag full of goodies carefully wrapped with love and glittering name stickers on them. I knew, it was Christmas again with a good start. When I opened the bag, the gifts looked as good as his heart. That, my grasp of human lexicon failed to capture the true essence of Harry Sheridon’s goodness, is the truth. I did pay it forward!


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