Celebrating Christmas – with love from New Zealand
Welcome to the second instalment of this special Christmas edition. The lines below from poets in Jamaica and New Zealand reflect the climatic similarities between both countries, throwing up hardy plants for the season – the red-blossoming pohutukawa for New Zealand, as Riddell indicates, and the also red-blossoming poinsettia for Jamaica, as Graham indicates. They also reflect that eternal desire to document and communicate the impact of shared experiences, reflecting the dialogue between the personal and universal. Happy reading. – Ann-Margaret Lim
Christmas in the South
Shadows, blue shadows and dry summer grass
red Christmas flowers, bright Christmas light …
In sweltering heat, I walk the boys
and one of them falls asleep
without his supper or his treats.
A pity, says his mother
Christmas is so different here …
leaves dance in advent haze
in the north the snow falls deep
we’ll go to the beach on Christmas Day
swim in the surf, play in the sand
eat our picnic in the shade
pohutukawa in full blossom
the children bathed in light
Ron Riddell (Auckland, New Zealand) from his collected poems
1982 – 2020.
The Bethlehem star’s return this solstice
augured something auspicious but it was
the breeze that truly heralded the season.
A brisk balm in a too fast, too slow year when
we were desperate for the comfort of custom.
Because in spite of everything
who would dare cancel Christmas?
So Santa’s been declared an essential worker,
free as the market to play up social inequity
and Christmas “bubbles” were encouraged,
though baubles would be more prudent,
But one couldn’t deny there was something
in the air. Our PM informed: we expect
many flights, we expect a spike.
And whether we considered the restrictions
too little or too much was a hard thing
to pass judgement about after a year like this.
Whatever we decided to do, or not,
the solstice was busy
stretching out sunsets,
and in this of all years,
the Bethlehem star came back,
stealing the show from the tree-toppers,
mocking, affirming our pagan pageantry,
for this auspicious alignment moves us
to look up and consider
the reflection of the son.
– Rhea Manley (Jamaica)
year’s end flurry, all a whirl,
weight of months, slurry sigh,
weary the many feet, hearts, minds,
yet still that story, burning light,
new life, hope, the Christ child.
– Sam Clements (New Zealand)
I didn’t have a child’s heart, I swear. Each year
as Christmas drew near I drew further into myself
wanting to creep into the huge old ceramic jar
on the shelf and drown in the aroma of pimento
and clove and dried fruit marinating in rum.
Wishing Christmas would never come.
But Christmas came alright and the one part I liked
was the making of Christmas pudding.
It started on the day they took that jar from the shelf,
bustled around to fire up the Caledonia Dover
wood-burning stove, grease the cake tins
rub up the sugar and butter in the mixing bowls
throw the sifted flour and the beaten eggs
and the orange peel and the candied citron
and the rose water and vanilla essence and
the whole jar of drunken fruit in.
The puddings couldn’t wait for the date, the 25th,
O no, the cooks wouldn’t hear of it. Christmas
Puddings have to be baked or steamed at least two
weeks before the event. Then, quietly sitting
in their tins, soaked again in good overproof rum.
THAT’S THE LAW. At least of pudding-shaped
cooks who would never go around arresting drunken
men for imbibing too much of their Christmas pudding.
O no. Not content with that alcoholic haze, on the day
they add brandy to the pudding and set light to it. I swear!
And I know swearing is a bad habit. But it’s not
my fault. It came from lifting the lid of that old
crock and inhaling even before the cooks got hold of
that rum-soaked fruit each year and drowned it.
– Olive Senior (Jamaican in Canada)
I sip the skin off warm Milo
and watch the freckled surface break.
I clutch at its edge with my lips
to steady the drifting
and open my nostrils to the warmth
of poinsettias pale and half bleeding.
A solitary tentacle stretches toward my cheek.
Once your starapple colour:
The day is sliced open,
the sky is mauve-bellied, and the air
clots. Reluctant to move, I dangle
in this moment, ornament in December.
– Millicent A. A. Graham (Jamaican) The Damp in Things: Pepal Tree Press:2009
“He said No to something or other.”
You have to laugh at Christmas
My Mum won’t be there
Last night I had a dream and yelled,
“Can’t you come back!”
She replied from the depths of my dreamworld,
“No I can’t!” and disappeared.
She used to burn chickens
And cry about not being
In Berkshire, Cookham Dean Bottom, it is.
She disappeared at 20 after giving birth
And having her child taken from
A brutal environment –
life often being brutal to Women
But yet, I remember when she gave birth
To one of my sisters
At 18 months I held my dad’s huge hands
And wore my Ladybird dress, ladybird buttons,
I remember her holding my baby sister
For us to see.
So this is Christmas
There is no burnt chicken.
There is no crying, yet there is a hole
Where a terrifying Mother was.
Involvement with her meant internal sacrifice,
No privacy, and being scared of Men.
– Kate Kelly (New Zealand)
And what did the holy family see
as they huddled around the hearth
and watched the embers send sparks,
ephemeral as our bodies born from desire,
into the sky, like those myriad angels
who came to witness the moment,
to guard the miracle of God made flesh
and join the shepherd’s voices,
a heavenly and human chorus, one song,
that rejoiced at the foot of another hill,
at another time, no longer afraid?
Joseph looked down at his son,
wriggling in the blankets. The dream
had been true - it had to be this way.
Mary held the child away
from the noise of the stable,
for there had been prophecies
about suffering. But until then,
she’d hug him, love him, and savour
the day of rest promised
by his birth, destined to bring shalom.
Joseph still couldn’t understand
what the mystery was all about.
He’d been there when the contractions
shook her small frame, when she wailed,
and dug her fingers into his arm — called out
his name, then her water broke.
He slept beside her on the straw, waited for hours
until the screaming child came into the world,
gazed deep into his eyes, then placed him
between his mother’s breasts, soothing
his cries, and while she was falling
asleep, cleaned them up, cut the cord.
Now there were strangers from all over
the countryside coming into the cave
filling the air with more raw animal smells,
shepherds, sinners, and other neer-do-wells,
who were either drunk or mad,
claiming they’d seen visions
of heavenly hosts of angels, bright
as the moon over the Sea of Galilee.
Joseph shook his head, rocked the manger,
still waiting for the miracle that he’d been promised
when God held his finger and gurgled.
– Geoffrey Philp (Jamaican in the US): Twelve Poems and a Story for Christmas: iUniverse:2005