Christmas breeze

I love Christmas. Always have. It’s embedded in my early memories of Christmas as a child growing up in Jamaica. Some years ago, while I was trying to revive the manuscript of my dormant book, Caribbean Stirfry: Chinese Roots, Jamaican Flavors, I came across a chapter that reminisced about the experience of celebrating Christmas on a tropical island where the average temperature was around 85 F.  It still holds true today. I had written:

“For islanders like me there are different seasons. Two to be exact. One is summer. The other is Christmas. And here’s how you tell the difference. It’s nothing as obvious as trees dropping their leaves. Or snow. It’s the subtlest of hints, coming first with the turning of the calendar to December. The days get a little shorter. The sun not nearly so intense.  Then one fresh morning, you feel it. The Christmas breeze.  Menthol cool.  Dusting a little sprinkling of goose bumps along your arms.  A delicious shiver sends you reaching for the covers.  Time to dig out the mothballed sweaters and the light blankets.”

We’re having our own version of the Christmas breeze now with Hawaiian daytime temps in the low 80s and nights dipping into the upper 60s. Brrrrrr. (I hear you snickering, mainland people!)

In the story, I talked about our Jamaican Christmas tree, which was a fake evergreen with bristle-stiff bottle cleaner branches, until it was replaced by the fragrant, piney spruce trees brought in all the way from Canada. I can remember a stack of trees lined up under a makeshift shelter behind our family store, waiting to be sold to customers. What an aroma! To this day, the smell of pine evokes the memory of that first real Christmas tree. So why do I have a fake coconut Christmas tree?


One of the Christmas rituals I loved as a kid was midnight mass on Christmas Eve and singing carols around the crèche. Christmas was all about the birth of the Christ child in a stable, where his mother placed him in a manger. (Did you know that a manger was a feeding trough for the animals?)  The Nativity story fired up my writer’s imagination, more for the imagery than the theology.

“I imagined chubby rosy-cheeked angels suspended over a straw-filled stable, gently flapping their wings, their coos and chirps floating softly under the thatched eaves. Wet-eyed cows flicked their tails looking on incuriously at a baby too big to be newly born, and improbably clothed in just a diaper in spite of the cold.  His little arms were impossibly posed in a wide embrace for his adoring parents and the three bearded and turbaned men bringing gifts of gold, and the mysterious frankincense and myrrh.  In the background, an unseen choir sang ‘Silent Night, Holy Night…’ My child’s eyes missed the incongruities and saw only the wonder of the manger scene recreated each December in our country church.  I could hardly wait for midnight mass on Christmas Eve when I could gaze at this wondrous tableau and sing carols.” 

Today, we have our own manger baby in swaddling clothes right here.  (As seen on Facebook.)

Then there’s the music. While I still love the carols, Irving Berlin’s iconic White Christmas sung by crooner Bing Crosby is indelibly imprinted in my nostalgia memory bank. Anyone old enough to remember Holiday Inn, the 1942 film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire? Berlin wrote “White Christmas” for the movie and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

So here we are again, another Christmas, and a new generation. It’s so much fun watching Blake’s reactions to the holiday. Like checking out the little tree surrounded by stuffed animals and topped by a gold angel. He doesn’t know that a couple of the toys date back to his Dad’s childhood, or that the angel was a grade school project.  It’ll be his turn in no time.

Lil christmas tree


He’s also quite bemused by the singing reindeer belting out “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” He wasn’t sure what to make of it. Still isn’t.

Blake & reindeer


For my part, even as I bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, I cannot tell a lie … I’ve already made several trips to children’s and toy stores both online and in the malls.  Christmas was much simpler in the “old” days, when the choices were not so overwhelming.  Now there’s a bewildering array of toys of every type for every age group that promise to be developmentally appropriate, educational and even environmentally friendly. And of course, you can’t help being suckered in, even though, in your heart of hearts you know that many of the toys will end up forgotten in the bottom of the toy box. I think there’s a special place in retailers’ heaven reserved just for grandparents.

So, as the countdown begins (how many shopping days left?) and I trawl the aisles in Toys R Us, I have to keep reminding myself that Blake’s favorite toy when he visits is … are you ready for this? … my measuring cups. Put away the plastic, Popo.

measuring cups


My little dim sum

Touching our hearts this Christmas.

Such a joyous time!

 © Maya Leland 2014