As people all over the world – secular and religious – observe this most celebrated of festivals; the reality that we are more similar than we are different (and especially at Christmastime) is reinforced by our geographies and cultures.


The post-Hallowe’en November-long anticipation has yielded to Yuletide celebrations and menu planning, Christmas parties and Christmas spruces, pines and firs, taller, higher, brighter, twinkling away (faux or real; either farmed and exported or manufactured in China and exported), retail mania, the ubiquitous carols (supermarket, petrol station, orthodontist, mall), sales and Santas and bright sparkly lights and reindeer and icicles on Orchard Road.

Come winters, or the winter months, and Christmas is everywhere and always has been, in some form or the other. Families in Singapore and Holland and London and Australia and elsewhere are probably doing the very same things – in tropic sunshine, or rain or snow or winds sweeping down from Siberia; it is the season of kinship, communal gatherings everywhere; a miscellany of festivities and traditions – practices of individual families, customs that belong to someone’s else’s past and traditions from an imagined past that never existed at all … all spun together and interwoven with charity and goodwill towards all, class and every other distinction notwithstanding.

Everyone cherishes their personal anthology of remembrances and customs; the treasured trinkets and traditions that gild homes and warm hearts at Christmastime. Each year, they are remembered, refreshed, tweaked.

Some of my favourites


  • The putting up of the Christmas tree the first weekend of December, year after year, to bottles of champagne and carols, the cat amongst the decorations and under your feet, a guilt-ridden Labrador shimmering with the glitter of a golden star, the Christmas angel between his paws …
  • The flicker and glow of dancing candle flame, the aroma of cinnamon and cherry and vanilla that trigger the memories of Christmases past …
  • Eggnogs – rich, spicy, alcoholic; milk, cream, sugar and eggs beaten to a froth (a welcoming drink and a spirit-ful one) … mulled wine, redolent and packing a punch in the aftermath …
  • Yule logs of chocolate and cheese, pastry and marshmallow…
  • Christmas cakes, fatly bursting with fruit and alcohol and spice and all things more than nice …
  • Octogenarian relatives with testy appetites, frequently napping, to be humored, fussed over and attended to …
  • Gifts accumulating beneath the tree …

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  • Caroling and plays where seven year old angels lisp sweetly and heed the ‘Boss of the Angels’ and teenage Magi present their frankincense and gold and myrrh with the apathy of forced role play …
  • Christmas lunches, depending on location – sharing bread and grapes with mallard ducks on a New Zealand river bank, burnt macaroni and champagne when the electricity trips, expansive repasts (including suckling pig and hot cross buns) in uber metro hotels, family gatherings of children and song and turkey and ham, bonbons …
  • Midnight mass and Christmas Mass and New Year’s Eve Mass … either mellifluous and sanctifying and uplifting (depending on where you are, again) or the drone and ritual of repetitive dogma …

And then the drudge and routine of the year is set aside to refresh, reflect and perhaps re-calibrate; and in the (sometimes) dark depths of a fading year, we pause to celebrate of life and renewal and resolve (again) that we are going to do it differently, this time and next time … only to ruefully recall them the next year, these resolutions, these forgotten ‘must-do’s’ that remain perpetually in the realm of good intent.

While each of us explore our personal Christmases and renewals, the fervent seasonal wishes of an eight year old (who is now fifteen and too stressed to be blessed … or to bless) may offer an unusual but relevant yardstick :

  • may you burst with happiness and jingle with joy
  • may everybody be co-operative regarding Christmas gifts, and may there be many
  • may there be many pit-stops when you are all out of air
  • may there be many hours to lie in the sun
  • may you feel reckless, disobey yourself and laugh many silent laughs
  • may your beds be good places to relax your thoughts
  • may you not always want to know the meaning of things

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Merry Christmas.

Happy New Year.

Photographs by Anita Thomas

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