20 June, 2024


The Year Of A Humble Christmas

By Pearl Thevanayagam

Pearl Thevanayagam

Pearl Thevanayagam

In 1965, Jaffna suffered one of the worst floods and food was scarce. I recall my mother saying Dudley Senanayake flew to Jaffna and inspected the town from a helicopter and provided food relief.

But what I most remember and the Christmas I cannot forget is we did not bake the Christmas cake and instead had kiribath (milk-rice) and some humble palaharam (local sweetmeat).

None of us children had any new clothes that Christmas which was de rigueur; the reason being my father’s remittance from Italy where he went for higher studies in Fine Arts failed to arrive on time. I stubbornly refused to attend the midnight mass since I had this morbid fear others would notice I did not wear a new dress.

Nevertheless, my mother dragged us seven kids to church and I hid behind a pillar so that my classmates would not see me in my old dress. Peace in the household reigned once more when the precious cheque from father arrived the following day and we managed a butter cake and were able to get new clothes for the New Year.

Still we managed to cut down the naraththang kai (kind of local lemon) tree and painted it for Christmas tree and it won first prize in the church competition. It was a work of art by my eldest brother who has his father’s talent as an artist.

My mother having transferred the coconut estate and bungalow to my father bequeathed to her by her own father to follow his dream of pursuing fine arts abroad did not even have a gold chain and instead she went to the jewellers to get a fake gold chain to wear for Christmas mid-night mass.

I am not accusing my father of being a frolicking fun-lover but he had dreams beyond his capacity. He neither drank nor smoked and he gave us the best in life. But he was a dreamer. Although educated, he lived in a dream world where he hoped life was not about daily survival but a journey towards an idyllic future where his children would aspire for higher things such as scientific research, the universe and its existence and rise above materialism.

We did not have children’s books and instead forced to look at graphic pictures of African culture and traditions in National Geographic and Illustrated Weekly of India; hardly pleasures for a 10 year old.

Instead of visiting Tamil cinema we were taken to YMCA where they showed documentaries of jam making and cars.

It was my mother who was only educated up to Standard Eight who had a rational mind and both feet on the ground. Although her faith in her husband was without question but while he was away pursuing his dream, she kept us seven kids in clean clothes, balanced meals and made sure we attended school without fail.

My father mellowed with time and we won in the end as we asserted ourselves and demanded we go to cinemas or else we would not go for tuition classes to improve our exam grades.

And since 1965 we had Christmas cake and new clothes every Christmas. And we lived happily ever after until July 1983 when we lost all of our possessions in Colombo.

Season’s greetings, peace and goodwill in the New Year and may our island be blessed with the simple pleasures we once enjoyed.

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Latest comments

  • 2


    Thank you for your articles and for sharing your views and experiences.

    Have a Happy Christmas and may 2014 be a year full of Hope and Fulfilment of all your wishes.

  • 1

    Thank you for that humble remembrance Pearl Thevanayagam. There are so many stories to tell and I hope simple stories such as yours will begin to break the hearts of rock some people possess and make them realize the joy of being good. May I wish you a happy Christmas and a better new year than the last.

  • 1

    Thanks Pearl for sharing this memory and story with us and Merry Christmas!
    Humbleness is lacking in the Land of the Buddha and Christ – both humble folk. Instead it is OVER CONSUMPTION.
    for luxury car races..
    New years eve at Dhammika Perer’s Govt. subsidized Kingsbury Hotel – formally Intercontinental – cost 25,000 LKR- a plate!
    Today Christmas is vulgar and commercialized with the KINGSBURY- CHOGM- car racing Rajapassa lifestyle on displace and trickling down to the corrupt politicians, business and military sector. The rest of the common folk have to eat kiribath. Meanwhile, the clowns in the UNP have failed to educate SInhalaya Modayas that the Jarapassa regime works to ensure the the POOR SUBSIDIZE THE RICH by paying taxes while the rich get tax holidays..

    • 1


      Xmas eve at the Inter-Con at Rs.25,000 per person. Crab Dinner
      for a single foreigner at the Ministry of Crab (Owners : Sangakkara
      and Mahela) at Rs.10,000. Reminds us of Dicken’s Tale of Two cities “It was the best of times; and it was the worst of times” – and the French Revolution was not far off. A handful are having a time of their lives while most of the 21 million are semi-starving. This cannot go on for long.


  • 4

    Dear Pearl

    A thoughtful article Here’s me wishing you for the season. Godspeed.

  • 1

    Perhaps you should write a book about your father and his family.

  • 3

    I am such a lazy bum Manel. But my father taught us things and made us work hard. His philosophy was always we need to earn what we yearn. Honestly, hard work and kindness and not artificial intelligence which would carry us through life’s long journey.

    I really owe it to him and moreover to my mother who put up with his dreams and illusions to write about this eccentric; who was not a sterotype of a Jaffna man.

    • 1


  • 0

    Pearl thaks for sharing, I remeber the cyclone and flooding very well.

    Illustrated weekly of India, sports and Past Times also an Indian publication, National Geography, Readers Digest these magazines bring back my memories, we used to rush to the college library during tea and lunch break to get hold of them first

  • 0

    7 children!

    Tamils growing like ameba!

  • 1

    To Fathima

    And the lowly amoebas from the outback of arid Jaffna metamorphosed into worthy adults devoid of rancour, hatred and jealousy not unlike those of the same generation who are now professionals, priests and charity workers.

    To Muthu,

    Tamils are Hindus in origin and I am not for one moment sorry I was born into a Catholic family.

    To all the other commentators,

    My piece was meant to bring back nostalgic memories of my childhood. My thanks for the comments. My siblings emailed me and said they were deeply moved

  • 1

    Very honest story. I m sure u understand the possessions lost in Colombo are to thugs not to Sinhalese. I wish you a blessed & holy Christmas & a happy life.

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