Christmas has always been a festive that I looked forward to ever since I was a child. There were only two windows a year that I would receive gifts or be allowed to make gift requests – Christmas and on my birthday. As a child growing up in a low income family, getting something of my own was rare. I would save up for the entire year on the little pocket money I have to get what I wanted with my parents topping up what was needed. But gifts were not everything.
1987-2002: A Child’s Magical Event
Christmas used to come in a couple of waves. There would be the family outing to town and a customary meal at Jack’s Place. All these things were a once a year event for us at that time. If you have to wait a year for something to happen, you’ll always look forward to it. My parents would pick out a place that we could get our gifts for both our relatives and ourselves. Then, there would be the whole matter of arranging transport to fit two wheelchairs. It was extremely difficult to get a taxi that would accommodate such requirements. We had a few relatives and friends to thank over the years for volunteering to ferry us to and fro between home and town. The day would be a long and tiring one – lots of things to get and also to find time to enjoy the sights and sounds of Orchard Road, a place we barely ventured to. As soon as I was strong enough to push a wheelchair, I was my dad’s motor since he needed more help than my mom in getting around the place. It is also at this time that I was actively involved in making purchasing decisions, working with budgets and learning to navigate in what was a strange new environment. Going to town may be something that I do once or twice a month nowadays, but back then, it was an experience to look forward and learn from – all admist the Christmas cheer.
All that shopping and preparation was down to three main events. The first was a Christmas Eve countdown at my grandmother’s place (Mom’s side). The gathering would start at around 6pm with dinner and it was a huge event considering the number of siblings my mom had and the many cousins I had. The older cousins (and that most of them were 10 to 15 years my senior – that’s how many cousins I had) would plan for games and competitions for the entire night. Keeping about 30-40 people entertained for 6 hours is no mean feat and they pulled it off year after year. The games were fun and often comical, something that even I could enjoy at my young age. When the clock struck 12, the Christmas carols will ring out and the gift exchange would take place. I remember having myself more busy aiding my parents in distributing gifts rather than receiving. After the entire event is done, we will be home at around 3am, laden with gifts, tired and exhausted. But it was one of the best events in the Christmas line up.
The second event will take place in the morning of the 25th. Take note, our family would have little sleep and we’ll drag ourselves to church. The Christmas sermon was tuned for newcomers and the church would be overly packed on this day. As usual, the pastor will begin his sermon by reminding everyone that Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th. Historians estimate it to be around April – but consumerism holds more weight of course. The message of salvation and love would be made and then the service would be done. There’s no special Christmas even at church besides a different sermon. But the congregation would exchange gifts with friends and members they were close with. Again, I would spend most of my time running around the place trying to help distribute the gifts. And again, the family would be home at around 3pm packed with 2-3 huge bags of gifts. There won’t be time to unwrap them.
The third event followed suit in the evening of the 25th. We would travel to my grandmother’s place (Dad’s side) for our final celebration. Grandma would prepare a huge spread for the family. She knew I loved chicken and there would be, without fail, a massive pile of chicken wings. I would devour most of them. My dad has fewer siblings and the event would be less chaotic. The family would sit around and spend time chit chatting till it was late. Sometimes simple games would be played but it was more of a catch up session more than anything. Grandma had a two story terrace house and I would attempt to climb up to the attic with this huge ladder without getting caught. At other times I would wander around her massive kitchen where she would be busy getting more food ready. At around 10pm, the log cake would be brought out with some deserts and then the children would be presented with gifts. Gifts distribution was my job and it felt great to end a hectic schedule of the 24th and 25th with a ride home. The final act of the day was to rip those gift wrappers off and to enjoy what was an amazing huge spread of gifts. It was a rewarding end to the months of saving up, preparation and expectations.
This was my Christmas experience since I could remember till about the age of 14. The Christmas Eve parties were not that consistent after that due to logistical issues and then the magic of Orchard fell dramatically because I was old enough to go visit town with my friends after school. In a sense, growing up whittled down this indescribable feeling of Christmas. As the years went by, Christmas began to feel like a list of things to get and to do. Christmas then began to take a new meaning for me.
2003-Current: Creating Magic
Now, looking forward to Christmas is akin to looking forward to the end of the year. In short, Christmas concluded the year for me. Six days later, a feeling of a new start and a fresh beginning takes on and you have this sense of wanting to end the year right. I would subconsciously prepare for the new year. Making sure things were archived and I was ready for the fresh year ahead. This would range from cleaning up the house to getting the mess of the academic year sorted. It was also a time to catch up with more distant friends and spend some time on leisure. Education really sucks up most of the year for an average Singaporean student and Christmas to me was a sign of a completed year and a chance to do things I had not accomplished.
I began to take over planning Christmas outings for my family. Now that we are in a slightly improved financial state than the years past, we might attempt two outings and try spend time seeing more places than usual. From planning the outings to buying gifts, adulthood more or less added responsibilities and Christmas became more about making others happy and ensuring they experienced or received something unique and exciting. In a sense, I felt that it was now my turn to bring that magical feeling I enjoyed in my childhood to the people I was with.
I now feel I’m too old for gifts. Receiving gifts sometimes brings this dichotomy in the new role I have played for many years now. Christmas remains the event I look forward for, a memory of such incredible expectations and joy that now falls on me to recreate and capture. I love Christmas and I look forward to it every year.
Have a Blessed Christmas!