Christmas Down Memory Lane
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Christmas in the eyes of a home loving child: A Family Feast.
Three childhood memories of Christmas come to my mind very vividly even now. We knew Christmas was round the corner because my father would start bringing home all the very many ingredients that would go to make the famous Christmas cake, and the week before the whole family of mum and dad and seven children would be preparing together the famous atolas, the culculs, the neuris etc, etc. It was all fun with the smaller children popping into their mouths the delicacies when mum or dad was not looking. Then came the preparation of the crib by my two elder brothers, who were natural artists, whose crib occupied a quarter of the hall and was adjudged the best crib in the village. Finally the last touches were given to our brand new Christmas suits and dresses in which we all marched proudly to the church with a bit of show off.
Christmas in the eyes of a village boy: A Village Feast.
During Christmas week we would all go to every house in the village both to give a parcel of Christmas sweets and to look at their cribs for which there was a competition. But the star attraction was the massive crib opposite the village cross in the village square, which would catch the attention of all the passersby. In those good old days there were no call centres or pubs and discos but the whole village felt like one family. Even now whenever I go home for a Christmas visit, I would first have a look at the village crib and then invite myself to the typical Christmas sweets.
Christmas in my Parish Church as a student: A Parish Feast.
The highlight of the annual Christmas celebrations in my parish of St. Andrew's, Bandra, was the Christmas Midnight Mass preceded and prepared by the perfect rendering of the traditional Carols sung by the Choir in polyphonic style. The highpoint of the Mass itself was the opening of the curtain at the singing of the Gloria accompanied by the pealing of the church bells to reveal the Baby Jesus that would then be held for veneration at the end of the Mass. The Christmas All Night Dance became an integral part of the celebrations. I would watch my elder brothers and sister dressed in their formal outfit dance all night in the stately ballroom steps without a break (I mean no break dance) and without a twist (I mean no twist dance) in those good old days where the Christmas joy was spontaneous and innocent. On Christmas Day itself we would gather round the beautifully decorated Christmas tree loaded with gifts presumably from Santa Claus.
Christmas in the Seminary: A Seminary Feast.
One of the most beautiful memories of my privileged stay in the Pontifical College for the Evangelization of Peoples in Vatican City, Rome, was the annual celebration of Christmas which began with a very strict fast on the 24th of December, the Vigil of Christmas. That fast would be broken by a sumptuous Christmas night Dinner with champagne and every type of Christmas sweets, especially with the famous and much talked of Christmas Cake made by the Australian students with the pouring of rum on it and setting it on fire. Then Santa Claus would come and distribute fabulous prizes to the lucky dip winners. But the climax of the Christmas celebration would be Epiphany, when the Flags of all the Nations would be hoisted on the facade of the college and Masses would be celebrated throughout the day in all the rites of the Church. It made me realize that Christmas is meant both to give Glory to God and to bring Peace on earth, that Christmas, as announced by the angels, is truly Good News of Great Joy to all the People. That is why in countries like Spain, Epiphany is called the Great Christmas, for strange to say on that day would be the exchange of Christmas Cards and Gifts.
Christmas in my Parish as a Priest: A Parochial Feast.
Christmas, commemorating the beginning of the Mystery of Christ, his Incarnation, and Easter, commemorating its ending, his Resurrection, are the two great Solemnities in the life of every parish. In St. Andrew's Church, Bandra, where I was baptized and had served as Assistant Parish Priest, and in whose school I had studied and had been the Principal, two annual events made my Christmas there meaningful, to which I looked forward: (1) the Cribs designed and executed by my co-pastor, Fr. Alex Carvalho, a revolutionary artist, which were untraditional and unhistorical, but at the same time modern and meaningful, with appropriate slogans that caught the eye; and (2) the Carol Singing in which I had trained my altar boys and angel girls, taking them to every street and square of the parish, and accompanying them on my by now familiar piano-accordion.
Christmas in the Holy Land: The Feast of the Jews and the Gentiles.
Though my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land was obviously during Holy Week, and my second during Pentecost week, my third was during Christmas Week. It was an unforgettable experience reliving the events of that first Christmas as I visited the house of Nazareth where Mary filled with the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in her womb, the house of Elizabeth where John the Baptist filled with the Holy Spirit leaped for joy in his mother's womb, the 'stable' of Bethlehem where Jesus, the God-with-us, was born, the Shepherds' Field where the angels announced the Good Tidings of Great Joy to all Peoples, and the Church of the Epiphany where Jesus was manifested to the Leaders of the Nations. Epiphany was in fact being celebrated as Christmas by the Orthodox Church, attended by Yasser Arafat, the Leader of the Palestinian People, with me sitting close to him.
Christmas 50 years later: A Priestly Feast.
As I commemorate the 50th anniversary of my Ordination in Rome on 22nd December 1956, with the celebration of the Eucharist this 22nd December in my parish of yester year, St. Andrew's Church, Bandra, and as I commemorate the 50th anniversary of my 'First Mass' in Rome on 23rd December with celebrating the Mass in my present Parish of St. Pius X, Mulund, who has always been my model and inspiration and in whose film I acted as a young seminarian in Rome, the thought came spontaneously to the Parish Team that I should combine the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of my First Mass on the 23rd with the celebration of the Christmas Midnight or Vigil Mass on the 24th in the spacious grounds of the Parish, to bring home to me and to all that Christmas is not just an once a year commemoration and celebration, but that each 'Eucharist is Christmas' as the memorial-event of the triple mystery of the Incarnation (God becoming Man), the Nativity (the God-Man being born), and the Epiphany (the Infant-God-Man being manifested to the World). As the priest pronounces the very same words of the Last Supper, 'This is my Body, This is my Blood', Christ becomes flesh, and is born, here in his hands, Christ is then lifted up by him to be seen by all in his crucified-risen glory, Christ is finally given to be received by all as their food and drink and to bring us his peace. The Christmas Event has now become a Pastoral Ministry!
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