Mark Wignall | O Christmas tree!
I would have had to be about seven or eight, standing there with my brothers and sisters, watching my father work his miracle with the Christmas tree.
We looked on and were fascinated and filled with the kind of pure joy that only children can feel. Daddy would begin with the base, making sure it remained firm in the pan by tightly wedging it in with stones. Then he would wrap the pan with white Christmas paper.
After that would come the cotton, at the base too, to mimic snow, then all the way to the top of the tree. Everything we knew and practised about Christmas came to us in cultural overload from carols, the traditions of the Christian faith, and the USA. It mattered little that 'white Christmas' meant little to us - Daddy would make it OK.
He preferred the tree placed in a central area of the living room. Then came the array of pepper lights carefully wrapped from the year before and now being unravelled. It went in an ever-shrinking spiral to the top in a few electrical circuits. After that were the coloured glass ornaments, delicate and shiny.
The tree could not be considered complete without a plastic angel at top centre or a bright, shiny star. Happiness coursed through us, and while some of us fidgeted, others remained spellbound, frozen and fascinated, not knowing that memories were being burnished, and love was implied, even if not said out loud.
My father didn't make it to Christmas this year. In September, he checked out at 96 years old and left with us beautifully seared images of that Christmas tree. While Mama and my big sister Rosie handled the cooking for that special day, my father, ever the gadget man, would turn to his gramophone, and throughout the season, the peaceful strains of carols would float through us, through the house, and fill us with a musical wonderment that would outlive my father.
While Nat King Cole sang my father's favourite, O Holy Night, our plans moved to secreting ourselves in some special spot to get a glimpse of Santa Claus because, well, he was real to us. We never quite made it as sleep claimed us late on Christmas Eve.
The magic rose to its highest point. Christmas Day! Gifts, noisemakers, fire crackers, starlights, and that cowboy outfit with six-shooters. Daddy, me, and Mama, sisters and brothers stepping out to visit downtown because it was the place to be on Christmas morning.
HIGHS AND LOWS
Being alone at Christmas, and worse, broke and feeling unwanted, is quite mentally traumatic. Having loved ones around to assist with the cooking and trying one's best to keep alive the tradition of a gentler time with the merriness of a Christmas tree means everything this week.
"You is wi general pon dem ends yah. Is you talk to wi and give wi advice and listen to wi," said a young man to me recently. We were on the gully bank community where I had befriended more than a few of them.
"What Christmas mean to yu?" I asked one young man.
"If me can give my babymodder a change and wi find a food fi Christmas. Den me and my bredren, wi get together, drink nuff special and run a boat pon di ends: A Christmas dat.'
He has come a long way from the days when he lived in a volatile area and guns were being handed out on rental.
"That was not life. That was death. Right now, as Christmas come, mi feel good and a work towards getting a bike next year," said the 34-year-old.
One irony about Christmas is that its message of peace and love implies that we may find common bonds that hold us together and even unite us, but in many ways, it exposes our differences and the lines that separate us into social classes.
I cannot imagine a Christmas without ham. A few years ago, I took about 10 small foil-wrapped packages of sliced ham that I had prepared into a depressed community nearby. "Don't know if you eat any ham yet this Christmas," I said as I gave a young mother I knew one of the packages.
"This Christmas?" she said. "Must be 10 years now me nuh taste nuh ham, Missa Mark. Mi a carry dis home and share it up." I felt a bit choked up. So many things we take for granted.
For someone who lost the one closest to them, seasons like Christmas may be viewed as unwanted. Too many memories to jog, too much pain. The fact is, time really does heal most wounds. The memories will definitely return, but the joys of the past will be the sustaining feature.
LOVE AND CRIMINALITY CLASH
Whatever it is that drives a grown adult back to the days of his childhood to reclaim his happiest times has never been fully defined so that every day people can wrap their minds around it.
I'm sure its perfect understanding exists in the textbook of the neuroscientist, but to me, it is the carefree times, the innocence and selfless nurture by parents, especially at Christmas time, that best define happiness. Then there is love, romantic love of the kind first encountered in our schooldays.
The times of the late 1960s saw the entrance of the ratchet blade knife, and while Christmas was generally peaceful then, there was always a spike of domestic violence in the season. This Christmas will see many with little and a few violent ones with urgent needs to dispossess others of their creature comforts.
The times in 2016 are far less gentle than in the 1960s, but loneliness and the need to let go still come hard for the uninitiated. A woman may not be able to bear the mentally serrated thought that her man has a new partner this Christmas, and vice versa.
It would seem to me that romantic love, while always the wish of many, is not necessarily the kind of love that binds us best at Christmas because when such a love is in its negative transition, people reach breaking point. Special mentoring is needed at this time to stave off the threats of violence.
There are those among us who have never experienced family love, a meal at the table, and a Christmas tree. Many young men are angry now, and they violently want the possessions that you have and would wish to hold on to.
The reality is, at Christmas, we have to face harsh facts about our societal dysfunction. The vast majority of us will simply want to be with our family this Christmas, but the truth is, most of us will be walking by each other and not caring to know what makes the other person tick.
Maybe Christmas is the wrong time to indulge in psychoanalysis, but I have always found it a most pleasant experience to attempt to understand the footprint of the next man. There are risks because no form of love or attempt to understand those whose lives run along different paths to ours comes without misunderstanding and suspicion.
My memory of the Christmas tree will define me this December, and my hope is that you reach back to a better time, live there for a while, then play it forward.
I will be having a glass of wine with the lady, meals with the family, and a pledge to become a better man. From me to you, I extend to you all of the joys that I have stored up. May you find even much more than I did. Have a most enjoyable Christmas!