My dear Hazel,
[shared with family and friends].... on the Feast of St. Stephen 26th December 2018.
I’m writing this just for you Hazel, because you said you don’t remember how Christmas was celebrated in the tropical island of Zanzibar, eons ago when we were children, growing up in paradise.
As I potted around the kitchen getting our Christmas turkey dinner ready today, thoughts of once upon a time Christmas in Zanzibar came rushing up memory lane to capture my imagination and long forgotten experiences of my childhood, triggered by your inquiring comments. Hopefully, by sharing this with you, a memory will be triggered in your mind, and you’ll remember the good old days in Unguja of once upon a time.
Now the dishes are done, and Mike is watching the FIFA football play-offs, and I am debating whether to write or not..... so rather than fall asleep in my recliner chair, [I’ve done so much of that in the past six months that it’s not even funny anymore], I’ve decided to harvest my memories whilst they are still fresh in my mind. Carpe diem?
This is what I remember from my childhood in beautiful Zanzibar of Christmas time of yore.
The week before Christmas, we all helped Mum make ‘kulkuls’ or curl-curls.... I’m not sure of the spelling.... a Goan sweet curled on the back of a fork and deep-fried and the rolled in icing sugar. And, we were commissioned to help our grandmother make ‘niorees’ ...again the spelling escapes me.... I loved my grandma’s ‘nyorees’? These are the two Goan sweets that stand out for me from those days, besides the fresh coconut sweets, halwas, and other delicacies that were home made staples at Christmas time....of Goan origins.
And, somewhere in between, our Goan Institute ...[ private club for all Goans.... ] would hold a Christmas party for its members and their children. We loved these parties. Prior to Santa’s arrival at the party, there would be a sports event in the club grounds...... three legged race, egg and spoon , sack race and such , for the different age categories of children..... everyone wanted to win....that’s how eager we were.
Then Santa would arrive, either by rickshaw , open sports car, or Mr. Karai’s motor-cycle side car, and once even by helicopter. Santa came and we were astounded, and he led us indoors into the club house where he distributed gifts of equal value, to all the children, no doubt financed by our parents, thus making sure that every child had a gift to take home that day. This was followed by a lavish party, and the young guys entertained the young party-goers and their parents with the latest music from the hit parades.....and when we became teen-agers, we helped run the events. I also remember Ben when he was older, singing and playing his guitar in Eustace Pereira’s ‘Star Dusters’ band.... they were pretty good.
Some of us were more lucky than others. Our Dad, founder and first president of the #13 Club.... an international All-races club founded by 13 members of like mind. They too had a Christmas party for their members’ children and so we were the lucky beneficiaries. Your Dad was a member too if I’m remembering correctly, and to add to our good fortune, Dad’s Cable and Wireless office would sometimes have a staff party for the children of its employees...so more parties... Ha.
But the best Christmas party, I ever attended, was the one given by my grandfather Agapitus and grandmother Chrispina, when I won a ‘His Master’s Voice’ toy grammaphone I had been eyeing with great longing. I might have been six or seven at that time. I think my grandparents and aunts favoured me. Lucky me. Bless them. Your family would have been invited I’m sure, but you being Ben’s age might not remember this party. I remember because I had won the prized grammaphone, I suppose. If Ben remembers, you might too.
Then on Christmas Eve we all went to church for benediction to end Advent. ... and it was only after that, that we were allowed to decorate the tree and the house for Christmas. The church too was quickly decorated and beautified in time for midnight Mass by the dedicated volunteers, and the Manger scene was the focal point of the entire church decoration. Everything was so magical. That was the church ruling and we followed the rules. Ha. However, later on, decorating was permitted in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. In today’s world, decorating starts in November or earlier. Advent has taken a back-seat. How times have changed....whichever way, let us rejoice in the celebration of this most special Nativity that has encompassed our hearts and souls forever and a day. Let us share our good fortune with joy and boundless love, and focus on the true message of Christmas....grandma speaks. Ha.
Our Christmas tree was a beautiful young casuarina/Mavinje [swahili] tree that substituted for the pine or cedar that we have grown to love here in the northern climes of Canada and the USA and England. It was a beautiful tree, which, when decorated was quite ethereal looking as it reflected the lights and beautiful baubles through its branches.
Mid-night Mass was for the seniors. Our Church ... our Faith ... was the focal point of our lives throughout the year. St.Thomas and St Francis Xavier had done a good job imparting our Faith to our Goan community in Goa .....way back 70AD, and the 1500’s. Bless them...and Goans around the world have never forgotten their teachings in imparting Christ’s true message. Lucky Goan community world-wide.
And, because we slept in four-poster beds with mosquito nets, we affixed our Christmas stockings to the foot-boards of our beds for Santa to fill up when he visited....and, try as I could to stay awake and catch Santa in the act of visiting with goodies, I never did manage to see him, ever. He drank the milk and ate the cookies, took our letters, and left us the most exquisite gifts and sweets and chocolates. The barley sugars were to die for as were the bull’s eyes peppermints. How lucky we all were. Santa came after midnight Mass of course. Our ‘ahya’ had an extra long shift that night , babysitting until our parents returned from midnight Mass, that’s why we never caught Santa sneaking in.
Now a further word about our Christmas tree..... this was a young Mavinje tree [swahili]... ‘casuarina’ in English. They looked like pine trees complete with small brown cones. We decorated our tree with the most delicate glass bobbles that were available in the stores, and we had our names embroidered or painted on special ones as well. Even the lights were special... all imported from England, for Zanzibar was a British protectorate. All this had to be done in great haste otherwise Santa would miss our place if we were still awake. Right?
When we were older, we were allowed to go to mid-night Mass with our parents. Midnight Mass was so special, and that has stayed with me all my life. We still had to go to morning Mass on Christmas Day to greet the Baby Jesus. My sister Annabella was born on 19th December and somewhere in my mind’s eye, I’m remembering my Dad putting our baby sister in the life-size crib in church, as the Baby Jesus, at her baptism, with encouragement from our parish priest who was our family friend. Perhaps I’m remembering or heard the telling of it... I would have been quite young at that time.
Christmas dinner could have included Christmas crackers with Crystal figurines enclosed inside the paper hats and jokes, turkey, or duck, or guinea-fowl, lobster, crab and king prawns..and all the trimmings...all simply wonderful delights only appreciated now as we reminisce over ‘once upon a time in beautiful Zanzibar.....so many years later, though I do remember these delicious delights quite vividly, even today as I try to replicate these experiences for my children, grandchildren, and friends. Every Goan home put out its best food-spreads and the traditions have been handed down to us and thus to our children and grandchildren. Perhaps we’ll try to make Christmas 2019 very special with everyone coming home, God willing, as we ring in 2020, and I’ll make sure that all the above mentioned treats will be made available. Ha. You’re welcome to join us.
So that, my dear Hazel, is how we spent Christmas in Zanzibar sans snow, sans reindeer, and sans fir trees. By the way we had a rare siting as we were eating our Christmas dinner.... a big deer had found its way to the hill in front of our house.... a rare spectacle for us town’s folks. That’s the closest we’ll ever get to ‘reindeer ‘ in our neck of the woods.
Anyway, going back to Zanzibar, our imaginations and creative spirits knew how to use the tropical treasures that were available to all of us in very hot , tropical Zanzibar. Getting used to freezing weather, snow, and blizzards took some doing when we came to live in the temperate lands..the human spirit is very innovative and creative.....I’m still adjusting!
��❤️��our Christmas tree of Light��❤️��
Now that our children are far away from home in various parts of Canada, we have settled for an artificial tree . Looking at our tree of this year, I am specially reminded of our once-upon-a-time Zanzibar Mavinje tree..... what a lovely thought. Ha.
In the final analysis, Christmas is Christmas wherever we may be. The Baby Jesus came and still keeps coming, for each and everyone of us. How lucky are we?
In later years, when I was teaching in Mombasa, I had the distinct honour of being appointed the first female Social Secretary of the Mombasa Goan Institute, and one of my best endeavours was to organize a Christmas party for the children members. My imagination knew no bounds as we re-enacted the Nativity and sang Christmas carols before Santa’s appearance. I made sure the focus of Christmas was not lost to the role-poly man in red. It was a smashing party, if I may say so myself....that might have been 1965 or 1966 when I returned from England where I had been studying as recipient of the Commonwealth Teacher’s Scholarship. I was truly blest.
I left Mombasa in 1968 and here am I fifty years later, recalling the wonderful years of yore in our Paradise Lost. None, but those who lived in and grew up in Zanzibar could ever know or comprehend the true import of Paradise Lost in relation to our lives spent in this beautiful, unforgettable island called Unguja... Zanzibar.
Happy Christmas my dear Hazel. Happy travelling down memory lane. Hope this helps. I have you to thank for inspiring this trip down my memory lane. Asante. Viva Zanzibar. Viva our parents who gave us such a rich heritage....and viva Baby Jesus.
Love.... on the Feast of Stephen.
Ps.... I’m going to share this with family and friends as well.....y
...and there’s RABIZNAZ with his Crystal Orb of Light, looking intently and lovingly at our tree of Light....in our living room. He agrees with everything I say. Ha.