12 Days of Christmas

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The blog entry is quite delayed. I will say, that’s due to an English roast infused with rosemary, salubrious parsnips, and the merriment of some cognac. Also a freeze over in a far-away land, where I surrendered to a room free of electronics and Wi-Fi. But a friend of mine said, “ Christmas is until January 6.” Well, there’s absolutely no denial.

December 2016
Though the halls were decked with Christmas streamers and gummy stick-on labels on window panes, something was just so eerily quiet. Christmas cards toppled and there were the post- its to answer to doors. Everyone left his or her nestled squares. It was officially my first Christmas without my family and also one away from home. And I was always asked, “Are you heading home for Christmas?”

Absolutely not.

A glorified season for wishing people more royally than on their birthdays, and I can assure you Santa was always mythical to me. My first most distinct memory of Christmas was my mother laying out a black skirt and tartan vest. She was combing my wayward bob that had to be disciplined with a hairband. I pulled through it, for the new black shoes were just what I needed to stand through the ordeal. So somewhere in the corner of the third row of the choir, I feigned my faltering alto. Annoyingly in the photograph I was caught with my pair of restless ping pong eyes, for I kept on wondering how long the song, 12 days of Christmas carried on. The sole motivation? A buffet spread that was set out for the choir team– devilled eggs, warm beef pasties and chocolate cupcakes with marzipan Santas. Yes that was Christmas, I knew we did not have chimneys and Santa may not be used to Nigerian climate, so I figured I could at least lip sync my way into that Christmas buffet. And I did, most pleasantly did.

That was the charm of Christmas, an art of making things jolly and beautiful.  That includes the Christmas lessons 101, how to make an angel with a toilet roll. Moving on to the obvious Christmas tree to customised Christmas playlists, and my personal favourites - paper chains followed by the tradition of straddling someone with it. Till now, mom treasures a paper Christmas wreath I made out of a disposable plate, and she holds it on to it dearly.  It’s been hung on our door since 1999.

Pole’s Apart

But Christmas traditions changed, especially when I went to India. A few things stayed similar. I would have a xalvar laid out on the bed, my mother would apply oil on my wary hair, and then I would cringe about high-pitched singers on the choir. And though there was never a care about the embellished Christmas trees and fairy lights, there were the genuine family postcard moments. How we all got together for the loudest lunch, where pot-dishes were exchanged faster than money. Everyone fought for the most coveted duck roast and some stayed sleepy from a midnight mass. And instead of hunting for Christmas presents, we would all hunt for the extra duck that’s hidden in a steel container. My grandmother was clever with her rationing, she likes that game of demand and supply during Christmas. I think she is Santa Claus.

And after our infallible attempts, we crash on the couches, and we don’t listen to Christmas music, we listen to food reviews of our grand Christmas lunch and speculations of the dinner ahead. My favourite hobby was framing puns for our food moments. The classic one was ‘Oh fish molly sight’ (Oh Holy Night).

But if I was to pick just one Christmas memory, it was somewhere around two years ago. After a very exhausting day at work, my friends and I jumped into a cab to rush to the crowded streets of Broadway in Kochi. In the muddy aisle, trampled by some very impatient buyers, I stood for a moment and enjoyed the resplendent display of the paper lit stars. It always reminded me of the Christmas Lights video of Coldplay. Tugging my friend Aabha’s arm, I said “I want to have a Christmas of mine.” She knew my Coldplay references far too well. That night, after some chocolate cake and our boggling debates, I played Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, and Aabha said, “ You should, you know.”

I only wondered; when will I have a Christmas to myself?

December 2016

On the first day of Christmas 
My true love sent to me jades of blue 

Blue Christmas
 On the first of December, my phone blinked peculiarly to say that the temperatures were planning to drop below 0 degrees. Smug in a woolly sweater and dreading to put my feet on the icicle carpet, I pulled up the blind slowly. The frosty window had painted a sleepy sky with acrylic blues. It was oddly charming, how you could see hints of our turquoise blue doors within the canvas of the window pane. And even though flowers were scarce during the season, my paper flowers dashingly complemented the view.
My friend joked, why do you have blue flowers?
“Well I don’t have fresh flowers, and blue papers are just stunning.”

And then one fine evening, a friend visited by surprise, and I was gifted a bouquet of blue jade flowers, solely in remembrance of Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas. It turned out to be more symbolic than the poinsettias that I always envied when I walked by the florist. I always wanted to be gifted a bouquet, in one of those not-cliché moments. But here I held into something rare and it was far from what was painted on Christmas greeting cards. It had a dark side to its beauty, reminded me of London’s evening navy blue skies speckled with fairy lights. It was only on the next morning that the blue jades bloomed. They looked lively against the turquoise blue doors and in the background it was Wesley Schultz singing Blue Christmas.

You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white,
But I'll have a blue, blue Christmas

Elvis Presley

Photographed by Jad Jbara 


On the second day of Christmas

My true love sent me notes of tunes sung to me
Photographed by Prabhackar 

Music and Lyrics
 In my old home, there was a little showpiece shelf that had to sit out of compulsion in a living room. It boasted of trophies, knick-knacks and few too many mandatory travel memorabilia. Though it wasn’t exactly a stunning shelf, it was one that I constantly visited to remember our trips. There were the Holland clogs, the pyramids of Giza, the bronze Colosseum and a lot more. But nothing of Switzerland's, and I asked where was the souvenir for that. Little did I know that the music box on my parent's bed stand was something that they bought near the shop of the Titlis mountain.  When wound up, it played Edelweiss. Unfortunately when we moved homes, it was one pieces that were left behind. But I always had a certain fondness for it.

It was by extreme luck this year, that a trip to Baker Street surprised me with its collection of music boxes. And I found the old fashioned music box that had to be wound up to play its tunes and one played Edelweiss just perfectly. And a few days later, a music sheet was slipped under the door. My hall mate Ushin, heard me constantly play the song and she personally wrote the notes of the song. Though I did not have that show piece shelf, I framed it, as it rested against by bed stand along with the music box that oddly found its way back. 

Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me

On the third day of Christmas

My true love, me sent me to a place of glee

Matten-Cherry on the Top
 It’s a standard protocol of Christmas to be infested with red and green, and sweaters that have absolutely ridiculous knit work. What’s Christmas without one ridiculous eye tripping knit wear? And I seemed to find one in a flea market; as scarf sold very cheaply.  Flamboyance has its perks. But to my bigger surprise, Aditi took me somewhere that beat my glorious bargain.
We boarded the Northern Line train, and Aditi goes, “ You’ll love this place. It’s so you.”
With the Kochi Muziris Biennale happening, for a few days, I have been narrating tales about how I missed the bustle of Mattencherry. Especially its market culture and the effortless beauty of its coloured walls and rust. But when we got out of Camden station, I knew why Aditi took me there. The coloured brick walls, eccentric displays, loud graffiti and crowded markets. I think I kept calm just until I spotted a wall that was colour coordinated with my scarf, and I ecstatically said, “Aditi, imagine this scarf ridiculously found its partner.” Somewhere in London, she gifted me the experience of Mattencherry.

I fused the motifs and art of Camden's walls  with the scarf’s  print to make postcards.

On the fourth day of Christmas

My true love sent to me some stamps for my ones to read

Photographed by Prabhackar 

Faithfully Yours
There were those umpteen jokes, if I was in London, I would be in a cottage writing in some candlelit room. This happened to due to some ridiculous matchmaking game, apparently, I was meant to be romantically inclined to Henry Thoreau. It wasn’t all a lie, I always fancied being Jo in Louisa May Alcott’s famous book, Little Women.
A few months ago, while perusing for some material at Stratford Upon Avon, I stumbled upon a calligraphic pen. And over the weekends I perused though art stores looking for some parchment paper. Getting a brand bottle of ink, making a few clumsy set of mistakes with ink spills, I loved writing letters in the late ours of night, under a lamp, slow music of Vancouver Sleep City. Narrating the words, shamelessly talking about the meandering fog during Christmas. Writing at the end of the year seemed most apt, to sum up the glorious happenings. It was a wish granted to send letters when ocean’s apart. And there I pasted stamps and sealed the envelopes. And a there was the bloody smug smile when I slipped the letters into the postbox.

On the fifth day of Christmas

My true love sent to me a Christmas tree

Oh Christmas Tree
Being new to the town, there were some things that I required was required to get used to. When the tree was placed in the foyer of the university, I looked at it and claimed how pale it looked. It was only then that I realised it was a ‘real’ Christmas tree. I’ve been so used to those plastic evergreen ones. And while you walk from one street to another, you marvel at the height of these trees; especially the floating star-lit one at St Katharine Docks near the Tower of London. The one at Kingston looked like the tallest raspberry profiterole mountain.  But I was looking for a tree that just went beyond an accessorised one. While having a chat with my friend bout my tree hunt, she joked,“ Knowing you, you’ll want something weird like an upside down tree.”

And it was an odd fate, when I headed to Tate Britain I spotted the Christmas tree, I never imagined.  Hanging upside down, the tree was floating in thin air, free of any constraints and trivial decorations. But the roots were covered in gold leaf, with a symbolic meaning of what’s hidden is sometimes so beautiful. Set against the marble arches an Escher-like tiles, the tree by Houshisary was described as ‘taking earth back to heaven.”

On the sixth day of Christmas

My true love sent to me books, I’ve craved to read

Book Marked
On a fine rainy day, my reluctant umbrella refused to open. But a bookstore’s door was. It was oddly eclectic, starting from a heavily cushioned blue arm chair to a burgundy swivel chair, and the intricate Chinese art, masks on the wall, and a corner with divans laid against Moroccan print carpets, the flutter of dusty rose organza curtains. Emma, the owner had a distinctive way of arranging her books by countries and continents.
Like everyone has a café, the bookstore has one too. Most stores try to keep everything so pristine but this one surprised you at every corner and I immediately loved its air. A bookstore that always has a mystery. Whether it’s a bookshelf with a long lost book.  I was promising not to bore myself when I luckily got my hands on Hitchhiker’s guide to Galaxy. The owner grinned, saying that book was one of his personal favourites, and he always made it a point to stock them. And as I headed to the basement for fresh brownies and tea, I chose a suitable corner, drawn towards a photograph. It looked oddly familiar until I read its caption,“ Offerings at Guruvayur temple, Kerala, India.” I can never explain how you say the phrase, “ It’s truly a small world.” I knew that I found a part of my hometown million miles away in a bookstore, Travelling Through. Bookstores have always had its sense of mystery, just like an open door during a rainy day.


On the seventh day of Christmas
My true love sent to me something vintage

Spinning Around
The class was low lit, and the scene from the movie High Fidelity was projected on to the screen.

Dick: I guess it looks as if you’re reorganising your records. What is this, though? Chronological?
Rob: No…
Dick: Not alphabetical…
Rob: Nope…
Dick: What?
Rob: Autobiographical.
My professor asked the class if anyone owned vinyl. I was the only one who raised her hand. I could only recollect my Sunday night rides listening to Fleetwood mac. Dad sharing his tales of how he lost his vinyl collection, and ever since then I wanted to start a music library. For every song is biographical, each lyric and song dedicated to each one. I could only make my shelf of music.
It’s been a year and I promised myself that I would get the whole collection of Coldplay’s CDs’ and write the notes and stories behind each song, and save it in the Cd covers to look back-back ten years from now.  It was by a stroke of luck that I bumped into someone while strolling through Camden and I landed at his shop. We had a pleasant conversation where he shared his story about collecting vinyl. As and as I rummaged through the myriads of discs in the rusty boxes, I spend hours looking for all the albums, and they slowly stacked up all the Coldplay albums. And at perfect night, as said, ‘I took myself to Oxford Street’ and wrote all the stories behind the songs and slipped them into the sleeves of the CDs.

On the eighth day of Christmas

My true love sent me a lovely view  

Who’s afraid of Woolf?
 In an interview with Rima Kallingal, I once wrote, “ What if Virgina Woolf joined us for breakfast.” We all leave a certain subtleties’ in things that we secretly dream off. I was in ninth grade when I was gifted ‘A Room of One’s Own’. The cover was a simple photograph of a long haunting window that streamed in light onto a wooden chair and a barren table. But her essays, I could barely decipher it and much later, when it made sense, I found them profoundly wise.
She moved to London to study at King’s College but at that time there wasn’t a ladies department on the main campus. With such gender inequality, it was said her essays started when she lived at 13 Kensington and a little later she moved to Fitzroy Square. And there I stood at 29 Fitzroy Square. I imagined the windows in the book and pictured the table. Crumbled papers, multiple drafts, and far too many stubbed out cigarettes, she defined a freedom never so free. They must have been afraid of her, when they passed through her window.

On the eighth day of Christmas

My true love sent to me some hope

Photographed by Prabhackar 

Between Two Lungs
“Atheena, now raise your voice and deliver your lines.” There I stood at the end of the auditorium and my friends looked so small on the stage. The words hardly leapt form my mouth. My teacher said that you deliver the best lines when you say it loud and clear. For months we were asked to memorize If by Rudyard Kipling, but I never mustered the strength to say it aloud. But for Christmas I was trying to find the perfect quotes for hope and at the back of my mind it rushed in.

To serve your turn long after they are gone.
And so hold on when there is nothing on you
Except the Will says to them: ‘Hold on!”

So on a chilly morning, embarrassingly standing on a bench, I recited those lines. A few people looked, but I was nonchalant, because when heard loud and clear, my teacher was wrong, the lines weren’t delivered to someone else but oneself.

Hold on!

On the ninth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me everything gingerbread

Ginger Oh Ginger
 I may know two or too many things about biscuits. My Sundays involved strolling in massive spread biscuit factory, and there was nothing more glorious than passing the hellish ovens to have fresh biscuits out of them. Growing up, I loved visiting the confectionary company dad worked in. It had its perks like getting to taste the fresh batch of chocolates, flavour sampling that even includes fish and chilly biscuits but never gingerbread biscuits. Never those spicy, rich molasses flavored wonders, thus in London it was a sweet craving to taste the finest gingerbread cookies.

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true love blessed me with a Christmas dinner

Feast Forward 

Rolling landscapes of uneven hills, the over ground train slit through the morning fog, as I made my way to Hempel Hempstead. There are a few passengers, all holding Christmas bags. The travel during Christmas always stirred an anticipation, it felt new, compared to my routine Christmas.

Earlier, mom always made it a point to celebrate two Christmases, one in Nigeria and the other in India.
She always knew how I loved Christmas presents under the tree. The day we take off to India for Christmas, my morning always included an excited dash through the corridor to slowly open the door and overlook my presents under the tree. And I somehow squished it in my suitcase before we took off.  That was then.

But my last Christmas took me back to my favourite Christmas times. Where I recollected my walk through the corridor, and I stood by the door, on my toes, peeked over the dining table that blocked the tree, there lay a present wrapped by Meera. I felt ten again.

Fulfilling the promise of every book read, Meera and Kevin made a sumptuous roast drizzled in the sauce served with beef wellingtons, mushroom souflettes and some cognac. And into the late evening, we played some cards and settled for a movie. The Christmas tree stayed classic with tinsels of gold and red, it reminded me of my long lost Christmas.

On the twelfth day of Christmas

My true love blessed me with a winter solace

Silent Night 
And truth be told, winter is a very solitary season. I unpacked a suitcase and hung my beige coat against the ivory walls. There was a bare table that had the light shine upon through the sullen blinds. And I experienced the well-taught lesson of Simon and Garfunkel, the sound of silence. Before the end of the year, I wanted to go far- far- away. A place I read about in my childhood. And there in the darkest of the nights, I finally made it to the hushed town of Dorset. Enid Blyton used to come and write her stories here, and how I lived in the serenity of the quiet town. For good old days, I snuggled up near the fireplace to read Five on the Treasure Island and read about their adventures at Dorset.

Atop a hill, there was a winding way to the Durdle Door. With the wild winds and heavy breaths, I went down through the slopes and walked towards the Jurassic coast. And nothing is more breathtaking than the ocean view, it was a certain peace I could never imagine. Undisturbed, I sat on the rock and listened to music for an hour. I may never be able to paint it, but amidst the deep blue ocean, grungy mountains and sea fog rolling- it was an undefined moment of solitude. Winter leaves this chill- a one that pricks you when alone and it leaves you to reminisce about the year.

Cold wind blows into the skin
Can’t believe the state you are in
Far Away – Jose Gonzalez

Christmas, the season where wishes are granted even without the cloned Santas.

I would like the thank Prabhakar and Jad Jbara who helped me take some photographs.
Of course, Aabha who pushed me to have a Christmas of mine.


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  2. Meandering through the sojourns of nostalgia, through the use of allusions and snippets of literary compositions, the magic and mystery surrounding Christmas has been captured eloquently. Economy of word choice and imagery employed to delve into your cherished memories coloured with fond remembrances of gifts, tokens of love and moments of fulfillment brings to life the spirit of Christmas which has been personalised and presented with truthfulness.