As a child growing up in West Africa and Asia, Christmas cards from family and friends in Europe and strangely Australia, considering it’s summer at Christmastime in the Antipodes, showed alien landscapes covered with snow, and robins, and holly, and mistletoe, and reindeer, and hearth hung with stockings in anticipation of a visit from the man in red. They showed a jolly fat man clambering into a chimney while Rudolph and his cohorts waited patiently, balanced precariously on the snow-covered roof, eaves glittering silver with icicles.
My Santa arrived in a canoe or truck or once, I was told but don’t remember, by camel. He wore the obligatory red suit but instead of cheeks rosy from the cold, my Santa seeped sweat behind a white acrylic beard. More often than not my Santa was black or brown.
Card manufacturers have, over the intervening years, cottoned on to the fact there are vast swathes of the world who accept Santa comes from the North Pole but who really only connect to him arriving by jet ski or tuk-tuk. Imagine the clatter of all those hooves on a galvanized roof. Australia has capitalized on the market-value of Christmas koalas and kangaroos clad in red hats, white pom-poms adorned with bottlebrush rather than holly, lounging under a gum tree. One can imagine eucalyptus pervading the air rather than pine. The West Indies appreciate that Santa likes a quick break in his schedule to laze under a palm tree, sipping rum punch as he watches the crystalline waters of the Caribbean quiver up the sand to cool his bootless toes.
I haven’t counted but I’d guess I’ve had an equal number of hot and cold Christmases and in my ideal world I would have only one cold day a year – the 25th of December. The family gathered, a turkey roasting, a glass of sherry, a roaring fire, presents delivered under a real fir tree, and a brisk walk through white fields after a warm, noisy cracker-snapping lunch.
This year however my family are spread around the globe. My daughter and her family will be celebrating in Trinidad, their new home. My son will be experiencing enough cold weather for us all in the middle of the North Sea on an oil rig. This Christmas Day will be different but fun nonetheless, and will end with carols sung to the backdrop of a star-strung sky and the Caribbean shimmering in their light.
At some stage, probably after FaceTime with our grandchildren, there will be a few tears. We will reminisce about Christmases past when our children were young and we were in some far-flung part of the world, sometimes with their father on an oil rig, but many miles from their grandparents.The cycle continues – often the nature of the expat world, but even on the other side of the equation I wouldn’t change a thing.
At this gift-giving time of the year I think probably the best present we can give our children is the curiosity to explore, the confidence to stretch their boundaries, the courage to go where their parents haven’t been, to make their own stories; and perhaps to realise the bricks and mortar that house them, wherever they happen to be, might only provide temporary shelter but the memories created in those places will remain, hopefully for a very long time.
Besides which Santa is everywhere and he will find our grandchildren whether they have a chimney or not. They will learn he doesn’t care whether a child is Hindi or Catholic, black or white, Oriental or Occidental; and whilst many may be dismayed at the lack of Christian zeal displayed at Christmas, I can’t help but feel that jolly fellow and his hardworking elves do more to promote inter-racial harmony than many sermons.
So wherever you are in the world, with or without family but hopefully surrounded by people who care, enjoy the cards that come your way depicting snow and reindeer, or sand and and camels, or sea and dolphins, and may Santa find you and may you have a Merry Christmas!