Tara Nanayakkara

Time Honoured Traditions

This is my first Christmas without the physical presence of my mother.  Although she died ten months ago, I feel her spiritual essence around me. Now, more so than at any other time in the past few months, my daughter referred to her as the Christmas Queen while she was on this earth. I could see why. Decades of tradition that my mother passed down to me were passed to her through my maternal grandfather back in Sri Lanka.

Ceylon, as it was then known, was and continues to be a predominantly Buddhist country with only a small percentage of the population being Christian.  My maternal grandfather grew up in an Anglican family and made sure to pass down all the family Christmas traditions to his seven children. Growing up, I heard tales of bountiful Christmas feasts, colorful Christmas crackers (our family knows them as bonbons), elaborate fireworks displays in Colombo, and of course preceding it all, the making of the Christmas cake which was an event in itself with all the mixing and beating done by hand without the aid of cutting edge tools and fancy kitchen appliances.

Fast forward to more modern times, circa 1973, in Newfoundland where my mother recreated the old traditions and introduced new ones like the Caroling Party, always to be held on Dec 22nd.  For a brief period in the late seventies and early eighties, there was a New Year's Eve potluck/dance that always ensured that I, as a teenager had cool plans for the 31st.

Zoom ahead to present days. "You must carry on the tradition now," my mother said to me last year when she, with wheelchair et al, attended my Caroling Party. Some of the traditions stay the same, others are altered. Where my mother used to serve a hot mulled tea punch to her 40 odd guests, I serve my signature hot buttered rum to 40 odd guests.

For my children, as fun and busy as the holidays continue to be, the magic of their early childhood Christmas' at Grandma's is unsurpassed. Somehow in the starry eyes of a five year old, Christmas is all about fairy dust and wonder.

Yet the one constant running through three generations of holiday tradition is the music, Christmas tunes imbued with rich memories of yesteryear, the people, the festivities and the early preparations, starting with the fanfare and fervor of gathering the ingredients for the Christmas cake in November  "because it needs to mature."

I hope my children will carry the mantel of traditions that were started in a home in a small island nation not so long ago.