Out shopping recently, I stopped and looked at the flaming poinsettia, sitting brightly in a shop window – Christmas flowers in cold Toronto. Uncontrollably, a wave of poignant memories swept over me – a longing for the old days. Slowly turning away, I walked on and wept.
I can still see my mother by the dim light of a 40 watt bulb, working late into the night during the Christmas season in Guyana, making paper flowers with two-coloured Duplex crepe paper. Petals, lovingly cut and shaped from a pattern, were curled over the scissors’ blade, gathered together and placed on paper covered, wire stems.
Beautiful colours light pink on one side, brilliant pink on the other, moss green on one side, leaf green on the other, radiated from the bouquets of roses, tulips and anthurium lilies which she fashioned through the silent hours of the night. She would often doze off to sleep, then wake up and continue making the flowers, her eyes and health failing, her fingers weak.
By making and selling these paper flowers at Christmas, she hoped to earn enough money to buy a gift for each of the children, sleeping peacefully head to toe, like sardines in a can, while she worked. The unsold flowers helped to decorate the humble home by the Backdam Road in New Amsterdam, and make it look pretty at Christmas.
Green tissue paper also came in handy for making the leaves of our homemade Christmas tree. This was a time-consuming job as each rounded leaf had to be cut and stacked up on the wire branch of the tree.
This was the children’s job and when completed, the paper Christmas tree was put into a pot of sand, and wads of cotton wool placed on the sand and on the tree, to look like snow.
The tree was then decorated with a few glittering balls, which we held gently like eggs, in case they broke. Some tinsel was then hung, and an angel placed at the top. A string of Noma lights was strung on the tree and lit.
This arrangement usually worked well, unless the hot bulbs happened to come into contact with the tissue paper, in which case the tree could catch fire, and engulf the room in flames! The result was "wuk done an’ labour loss," and everybody blaming everyone else!
We were proud of our Christmas tree, even though it looked quite different from the real Christmas fir trees, imported from Canada into British Guiana, in the refrigerated holds of the Lady Boats, and which the wealthy displayed in their homes and businesses.
In today’s world, the abyss between the rich and the poor continues to be as un-negotiable as that between the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in the time of Jesus. In that regard, nothing has changed at Christmas or all year round, since I was a child. The almighty dollar marches on without blinking, as people become more "funny with money."
In Guyana as elsewhere, racism is as ready to rear its ugly head in 1998, as it has done in the past. While the deeds of the just never die, those of the evil seem to live a little longer!
However, truth remains the child of time, and the message of the Christ child is the same – yesterday, today, and forever. The Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. He is there to catch us when we fall, and fall we do, some of us so regularly that we never have time to get up! That is what Christmas is really about.
For us, the walking wounded, we spend a lifetime trying to become human, taking the long journey from alienation to forgiveness. We are the bruised hearts – weak, hypocritical, blind, prejudiced, jealous, fearful, frustrated, cynical, obsessed with "security" and daily chores. For us who live in the prison of past hurts, the flaming heart of the Christ child offers a ray of hope – the hope of things unseen, the hope of a Christmas which never ends.
The clock is ticking and the days are getting shorter for you and me. There is no replay, no second chance. It has been said that there is no life worth living but the life of service to others. Jesus, the Christ child and the man, presented that model.
Love and fellowship from my family to yours, this Christmas of ’98 and for always. May the world, and particularly Guyana, have the peace it deserves. May you have peace in your hearts and homes.
"Courtesy of Indo Caribbean World, December 18th. 1998"