For The People

Christmas of My Childhood

“There are many ways to carry the past with us: to romanticise it, to invalidate it, to furnish it with revised or entirely fictionalised memories. The present does not surrender so easily to manipulation.”

-Yiyun Li

During the festive time, I tend to idealize the Christmases of my childhood. I remember how we excitedly awaited midnight to open our presents, the way my grandfather would drive around the block hooting nonstop, then come home to set off fireworks. He would smell of Threeships whiskey, and to this day that scent comforts me. I never think about how scared our dogs were or of how my mother would have to explain after we’d torn off the wrapping paper, that the shops were out of Bratz dolls but that she managed to get us Wendy dolls.

In our household there was always a lot of month left at the end of the money, so we’d usually stay home for Christmas. I never really minded it because my sister has a way to make it fun every time. On my seventh birthday, which was my crown birthday, our parents didn’t have enough money to get me a present, but my sister made me a paper crown and for that day only, allowed me to play with her doll Kristin. It’s the little things strung together that create significance.

We’d start early on Christmas eve with all the preparations while Boney M cannot sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. The house smelling like gammon and baked potatoes and family and tradition and all the things I’ve ever known which are just as important, if not more, as all the things I’ve yet to know.

My mother always brews her own ginger beer, calls it “Skelm gemmer” which she gives to that uncle we all have who’s always drunk and doesn’t want to sleep. I think pharmaceutical companies should invest in this venture for those allergic to local anaesthetic.  My sister, my aunt and I would walk up and down the street wishing everyone a merry Christmas and exchanging punch or ginger beer we had stolen. I never understood why I’d never drink the actual punch but I’d still feel funny. I decided that I would rather eat the fruit. Well, I know why now.

Yiyun Li writes that our memories tell us more about now than then: that we choose and discard from an abundance of evidenced what suits us at the moment. She says the present cannot me manipulated that way.

Well, here’s the reality of my Christmas now: the fireworks you used to love scare your dogs. You realized you should’ve been grateful for the Wendy doll. You should’ve stolen and drank more punch, it’s much more fun when your under-aged. And you’ll never have your grandfather’s whiskey breath singing “Mary’s boychild Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day” again.

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