I went to Christian schools and Christmas was a great time we all looked forward to. The beautiful nativity scene with twinkling fairy lights and the fabulous Christmas Tree we helped decorate, were a delight to behold. We enjoyed practicing singing carols throughout the month.
The first school I went to – Little Flowers – had kindergarten to Grade IV at the time. For about two weeks before Christmas, the teachers and assistants were hard at work, making handmade giveaways for the 200-odd kids in the school. Yes – Phew! They made little Santa Claus cut outs and colored them. These were stuck onto little square trays made of cardboard. One of the teachers would be busy baking cakes for the big day.
The “Santa” trays were then filled with a piece of cake, chocolates, pencils, erasers and covered with a pretty handkerchief, fixed to the tray with a safety pin. Yes, it is auspicious to gift a handkerchief with a safety pin. Each handkerchief was lovingly made by our Crafts Teacher, who bought the cloth in bales, cut them out and edged them with lace on her sewing machine. She then embroidered something cute in one corner. We treasured them for years!
As Christmas day approached, we would go crazy with anticipation, even though we knew what was going on. We would try to get sneak peeks into the staff room for a glimpse of our “gifts” stacked on the tables.
On Christmas Eve, the teachers would be dressed in their finest. School would assemble for celebrations. There would be skits, singing and dancing on stage by the ones who had been practicing to give us the perfect show! The event would wrap up singing Christmas carols. Predictably, “Jingle bells” was the favorite and as we sang it, “Santa Claus” would come prancing into the hall and there would be chaos.
After letting us scream our heads off for a couple of minutes, the teachers would laughingly scold us – or we would have to miss our goodies! The noise level would instantly come down and we would eagerly file into our class rooms. The trays would arrive and be placed on the table. Thoughts like – what color hanky will I get? how many chocolates? would run through our little heads.
Then the distribution would begin. A group of teachers would be singing Christmas carols. As each child approached, she would receive a warm hug, a blessing and her “tray”. With a hurried “thank you” and suddenly obedient, she would sedately walk to her place in her classroom, desperate to check out the contents of her tray.
After everyone received their gifts, Santa would once again waltz in and out of each class to drive us all crazy again, leaving little necks craning to see him until he disappeared.
Some of us made greeting cards at home and brought them for our teachers. All of us shook hands with our teachers. And secretly tried to touch a tip of their dress or sari.
Have I told you my Mom went to the same school as I did? Her 4th grade teacher was my 4th grade teacher too! Later, my Mom was a teacher in the same school. Mom was also my class teacher in Grade 2. For me, it was a double celebration not just as a student, but also as my Mom’s daughter with the teachers. My Grandmother would invite the teachers home for lunch and they would spend the afternoon with us. Then they would all leave, with gifts from my Grandma.
This was followed by a week off from Christmas to the New Year before school reopened again on January 2. And we settled down to a cozy time at home, planning movies at the nearby theater, picnics at the nearby park, visits to the beach, lots of sketching and coloring, craft work, learning new things and…. growing up just a little bit.
Together, we would gather clothes, utensils and other things we had been collecting over the past couple of months and with food set out – to give them away to the street dwellers and those faithful workers who toiled to keep our area clean – and worked even on holidays.
All the local street people in our area were invited over for a meal and my Grandmother, Aunts and Mom would cook for them and serve them, as they sat in rows and ate. At the end of the meal, each guest was given a gift – an item of clothing or a bed sheet. My Uncle would go shop in advance, bargain and get them wholesale.
Beautiful memories. Filled with love and happiness.
Today, I try to continue the tradition as best as I can, without waiting for Christmas or other festivals. Every day is a good day to give. I have a giveaway trunk where each of us adds the things we’d like to give away on a continuous basis. This helps us grab and thing or two each time we step out. The joy of living is in giving.
Merry Christmas, dear friends. Have a love-filled and happy one! And don’t forget to say your I Love Yous. Smile at everyone!