Was reading a few blogs and looking at pictures and reports on Christmas – in Dubai, New York, Florida, in the giant metros and in small cities, towns and rural areas too in Kerala. And my mind slid back to sixties and seventies - - -
My earliest memories did not involve Xmas shopping, ‘cos I was a kid. Shopping must have been there, but the instant ready to use items, I’m sure were not there. Not just us children, but those of all age group got involved inn making the pulkoodu (Crib). I still remember a day before Christmas. My father in a Jubba, with his hand on his hip discussing with Mathai who was employed in his office across the street, about the ideal spot for the crib (and mind you, my father was a very busy business man!). I remember anxiously waiting to see if the spot I preferred would be decided on. It wasn’t, and then the six year old me threw tantrums. I was given a hearing and Ichayan (that’s what we called my father) agreed there’s a lot of sense in what I said – on the narrow veranda it was to be. It faced the front compound which could be accessed by a small flight of steps. It would look like the crib is on top of a hill, I said excitedly (am not sure now if the manger where Christ was born was on top of a hill). Yes, the hill effect could be easily achieved if the crib was where I wanted it, agreed my father enthusiastically. Mathai also agreed. And my day was made.
Every bit of item for the crib was gathered by my brothers and I. Some supervised, some moved in an out of the house, in the compound and the adjacent vacant plot getting bits and pieces to put the crib together . I still remember Mathai telling us siblings that if he could cover the superstructure we had built up with brown paper which could be crumpled to get that crushed effect, that’d make it look like a mountain. Some paint was remaining from the maintenance that was done in the house a couple of months back. It could be used to touch up the brown paper to improve the effect. It meant a lot of brown paper, and a lot of money.
“Mollykochey”, suggested Mathai. “You ask Ichayan. He will agree”.
I do not know if I was the favourite, but I remember I was not scared to ask him. He readily agreed, took out a note and gave me.
There was jubilations when I ran back with the money.
It was a great crib that year! Grass was uprooted from the vacant plot and arranged at the bottom of the step to create an impression of a green valley. There was even a lake in front of the crib, at the foot of the mountain, in the middle of the grassland! Mathai dug a shallow hole on the sand, placed a basin in it poured water into it and even put a few live fish into it.(I do not know if there was even a puddle in Bethlehem! But that did not matter).
In the kitchen, amma would be making cake in bulk. Yes, really bulk. Baking was done in the most primitive manner. The small oven which could be kept over the aduuppu (firewood stove) was inadequate. So a temporary firewood stove was made in the backyard, and a huge bell metal vessel (chembu) was kept over this make shift aduppu. It was filled with sand which took a long time to get hot. My brother who was closest to me in age, and I used make occasional inspection of this outdoor oven to see if the sand was hot enough for the cake mix to be arranged in the many dishes it was already poured into. Amma kept a hawk eye on us to make sure we didn't land up in the oven.
Regarding the wine, amma would have bottled it a week before Christmas.
The spade work for Christmas cooking would start late in the evening. The only thing that used to sadden me was the sight of the chicken and duck that were awaiting slaughter. I remember asking Verghese, our very versatile odd job man and who took over the role of the supervisor on that day if it would hurt them when he cut their heads off. We were shooed off when the actual killing took place.
Of course, I could block out that part of the story of the duck roast which was served with appam for Christmas breakfast.
Every Christmas of those decades has memories for me. In my time too, I have tried to keep that spirit of Christmas in my home. Even today, my crib is a cardboard carton, with some grass from the roadside and a few painted clay figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, three kings and shepherds, a few sheep and cattle and an angel suspended from the hole pierced through the “roof” of the carton.
But the world has moved on, while I continue to wallow in nostalgia. How different things are now! How commodified is that festival now! The malls and shops glitter with optic fibre lights, eco friendly glare, bright colourful and fluorescent decorations. Cakes – you get any variety of them from the shops. And wine too.
Guess I’m an old timer. All these glitter and glare leave me cold.