Every Trini I think has the same kind of Christmas. We celebrate with soca parang and traditional Carols, we head from house-to-house packing on the pounds from the food and drinks prepared for the season and we spend a whopping amount of time prepping our homes at a frenzied pace. If we are exhausted on Christmas Eve night, then so be it, every single preparation and shred of weariness is recalled with love.
In our tiny apartment in Port-of-Spain, Christmas morning was always, well, heated. That’s because the only thing that worked harder than Santa on Christmas Eve was our little gas oven. From the leg of ham to the stuffed turkey, from the three black cakes to the one sweet bread and the odd cassava pone, my mother always insisted that everything eaten on Christmas day should be not only homemade but also fresh out of the oven.
For this, she paid a painful price every year but she saw her work and the migraines she endured as nothing more than annoying tolls as she created Christmas magic at our home. Like so many others, our sense of who were, as a family, came alive with joy, excitement, and love on December 25th.
These memories were what Christmas looked like was for me up until 2013.
It’s been 6 years since life has taken me away from “home” and I have to tell you the difference can at times feel isolating. For instance, in the big cities where I’ve lived: Lima, Paris, and Milan many people spend Christmas outside the city. Neighbours don’t spontaneously come over, neither for that matter do friends or family.
Sounds sad doesn’t it, the truth is some years in the beginning, it did feel a bitterly so. One important lesson I learned is when life takes you away from home for Christmas, your sense of belonging or lack thereof is more exposed.
What do I mean? Just that in a big city it’s easy during the usual humdrum of everyday life to fade into the crowd. Busyness substitutes for belonging and you can fake it, but once the city slows down and the shops and offices close, once the traffic thins out and the people file out, at that moment you are an outsider living on the inside and you feel it! At least that’s how it felt like every year we spent Christmas in a new city.
What Have I Learned?
My first Christmas away from home I spent a lot of energy attempting to recreate all the elements of a Trini Christmas. From my playlist to putting ginger beer in the sun, whatever little sun there was left during the winter. Sadly, while I kept dizzyingly busy, it never came together the way I envisioned it. So bah humbug, where did all this leave me? A disappointed outsider, depressed that I wasn’t home and ready to sit out Christmas. The reality was Christmas away from home was never going to be the same. This took some getting used to.
How Do I Deal WIth Nostalgia?
Well, as desperate as things were in the early years; I’ve learned a thing or two. To begin with, sitting out Christmas with a young child is never going to be an option. That’s why now most of the pre-Christmas activities: putting up the tree and decorations, making an effort to be more social by inviting people over, are basically all for Martina. As it is, my heart sinks a bit because I feel she is being short-changed of a full Christmas experience, like the good old ones of my childhood where the smell of floor varnish and wall paint were imprinted into my senses and when I grated my knuckles off helping to make ginger beer or sweet bread and later showed them off as badges of honour of my stick-with-it-ness.
Ok, maybe the truth is some of my memories of seasons past are a tad impregnated in nostalgia. And maybe the sinking feeling I get in my heart has more to do with me thinking I was shortchanging myself. Things change and so does Christmas and that’s ok. Creating new traditions, that are not so focused on the number of people coming over or fixated on the exacting ingredients in a cake seem to work better for us now. More importantly than what we don’t do, is what we do.
Our new family Christmas rituals have been simplified so we can take them with us anywhere. But the greatest lesson about spending Christmas away from home is that connecting to the people you love even if far away brings the most Christmas joy. Here’s the catch though, it’s not about being in touch just on Christmas Day. I found the magic at Christmas happens when we stay in touch all the year. Remember, “the secret of Christmas,” It’s not the things you do, at Christmas time, but the Christmas things you do all year through.
From my family to yours Merry Christmas and let’s stay in touch no matter where life takes us!
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