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WORD VIEW: Death of Christmas

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW: Death of Christmas

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Christmas had come to the village but no one knew. She had entered through the cart roads that intersected the remaining cane fields; skirted the gully where a few sheep grazed and the healing cerasee was overgrown by vines and other wild bush. She had walked through the grass piece where multicoloured butterflies were once in abundance and children played in the evenings until sunset.
Had anyone been perceptive enough, they might have heard her deep sighs clearly distinguishable from the wind as she passed through the gaps and along the main road. Year after year she had come hoping that the villagers would welcome her as they once did.
She was losing hope.
It seemed that each time there were newer and bigger houses completely fenced in; no longer just a backyard paling. Cars were everywhere. Not even a single pot-starver came out to greet her walking amiably at her side; the breed had long been replaced by rottweilers and ridgebacks who barked at her from behind locked gates.
Yet it was not these outward signs of so-called progress that caused her distress, for she had already spanned several ages and had seen how cycles began and how they ended. It was not what the people in the village had gained but what they had lost that troubled her.
She had loved this village; had sat in many a humble chattel house in times past relishing the activities leading up to the special day in which she was to be celebrated. It was not a matter of vanity, for Christmas knew that she was merely a symbol of something greater than herself.
She loved the smell of freshly-cut khus-khus grass that was dried for stuffing mattresses; the pungency of thyme, chive, onions and pepper pounded in the mortar and pestle to make seasoning. She liked to watch the women grating cassava and coconut for the pone and sweet bread that would fill larders with their scent for days ahead. She knew it was the wood-stove that gave Aunt Lil’s pudding a particularly special aroma.
She was not over-idealistic. She understood well enough that permanent innocence was not possible. The purest ideal contained the seed of its own destruction. Hadn’t the sinless Jesus in His mystical atonement become sin for all; crucified like a common criminal?
She was conscious that life was not perfect in the village. Not infrequently, two of the village women had to run to a neighbour’s house in order to escape the blows of their drunken husbands.
A good number of boys and girls still walked barefoot to and from school carrying bakes, fishcakes and ground provisions for lunch. A bottle of homemade mauby, “swank”, lemonade or cocoa left over from morning were the beverages they were used to. Patched trousers and hand-me-down dresses were the order of the day. Wages were small and scarcity was the norm.
But it was that same scarcity that made sharing as normal as breathing. Nobody would go hungry as long as breadfruit was in season and a neighbour still had yams and sweet potatoes stored under the cellar. A meeting-turn would be shared once there was a need. The village men would dismantle a chattel house that was to be relocated and erect it again by evening with no thought of payment.
But progress had come to the village mainly through education which was of great benefit but created separation where there had been none before. The people had become self-seeking and preoccupied with material possessions. Her spirit could not thrive in this environment.
As Christmas turned to leave, she took one last look at the massive effigy that towered over the village; this the people had erected and called by her name. The creature stood covered from head to toe in glitter, its myriad hands loaded with what looked like splendid gifts. She knew better.
What she could hardly bear to look at, however, were the creature’s eyes. Could the people not see what she did? The leering cynicism, the unassuaged greed?
But what Christmas also recognised in that look was her own demise. And as she walked away, she knew she would not be returning. She would enter the world of shadows to join the other spirits whose mission it had once been to enlighten and enrich the human experience.