I was introduced to the idea of Christmas around the age of eight.
Yes, Christmas back then, was, at best, a concept. And yes, Christmas existed in sunny Singapore way before I was born, but I reckon I became cognizant of the holiday at around that age. For I grew up in a non-Christian family in sunny Singapore, and my only source of information up till then was the television that fed a steady diet of white wonderlands, snow-laden branches and sleigh marks on the ground, a star that goes by the name Star of David that shone as brightly as the sun and reindeers that prance and fly and an extra special reindeer whose nose glowed red as coal.
TV also taught the joy of giving: I made two greeting cards and pretended imaginary friends had sent them.
One of the cards depicted a wintry scene, complete with a clear blue sky and a fir tree bedecked with baubles and tinsel and all sorts of Christmassy items. Though I faintly recall candy canes, lots and lots of candy canes – well, what did you expect from a fat kid? The other would have been a similarly Christmassy scene, perhaps a roaring fireplace or Santa Claus climbing down the chimney.
Yes, I adored Christmas as a child. I adored it sufficiently to ignore all the signs that said snowflakes would disappear the moment it fell out of a cloud in hot hot hot Singapore and Santa was probably too heavy to be lifted by reindeers that levitated – but TV had such a profound and persuasive influence, I couldn’t possibly have imagined Christmas as anything but.
Father, despite his deeply ingrained Chinese roots brought home an advent calendar a couple of weeks before one particular Christmas where I was of an indeterminate age.
Like all zealous kids who never bother with instructions and just tried to figure things out along the way, I tore out the windows in numbered sequence, though I did find it baffling that window No. 1 was right smack in the middle (instead of being in the top left hand corner), and that window No. 2 was two rows up and one column to the left.
It was only when I got sick of the candy that were to be found within the windows that I stilled myself (most probably from the sugar rush) to explore the advent calendar from other angles – otherwise known as flipping-the-whole-thing-over-hoping-to-find-other-hidden-goodies – and found the instructions.
Ahhh, so I was to open the windows day by day, counting down to Christmas and collecting the gifts hidden within each window, with the ultimate prize hidden beneath window No. 24. Needless to say, by dinner time, I had opened up the rest of the windows hoping to find more varied – and hopefully, more extravagant – treasures.
At the ripe of age of 35, I cannot pretend to recall an event that is close to three-decades-old with vivid details… Under window No. 24 was probably a sickeningly sweet and wonderfully pretty treat, perhaps a caramel-filled praline with rainbow sprinkles. Or a unicorn-shaped lollipop that tastes of candied clouds and sprightly stars…
I guess that’s the flaw of all beautiful memories: They tend to be even more fantastical than they actually were and are just that much sweeter.
Happy 3rd day of Christmas, Pa.