[Caribbean Literature]

Christmas Eve in the Maharaj Household

Lakshmi Persaud

[This passage was chosen for inclusion in the Postcolonial Web by the author. The comments and questions are by GPL.]

Like much of Butterfly in the Wind, this description of Christmas in a Hindu household in Trinidad uses abundant, well-observed details, building up a lush picture of a vanished childhood:

Christmas was the one festivity everybody in the village celebrated. Hindus, Moslems, and Christians all planned what they were going to do for Christmas with equal fervour. . . .

Christmas Eve night was the grand finale: all the domestic toil ofthe past weeks came to a crescendo. It was a night when our home was not merely transformed; it became a joy. In a quiet mysterious way the old ordinary things acquired a magic, an enchantment. Take our kitchen safe: the old wooden safe that no-one noticed had disappeared and in its place was safe of deep rosewood that beamed and sparkled and captured laughing eyes like a mirror.

It was the moment when everything, from the brass on the four-poster bed to the hatrack in the corridor, took on a state as near perfection as it was possible to achieve. Whether the wide satin bows which gathered the curtains, the gold-fringed lace which charmed our beds into becoming airborne chariots, the fine brocade bed covers or the embroidered pillow cases: everything was as it should be. Every item of furniture smelt cared for, given a new lease of life with oils, varnish or polish.

On the kitchen floor there was a new piece of linoleum; on the dining table a new oilcloth with patterns of bunches of grapes and pears and peaches all miraculously on one vine. The wooden floors had been scrubbed, the kitchen walls painted with an emulsion and every cupboard had had its contents removed, dusted or washed, and its shelves given a new lining of satin-smooth cream paper.

It was not merely the cleanliness but the feeling of space around everything which was so satisfying. It was the feeling that light was now penetrating into the furthest corner, unimpeded by the day-to-day accumulation of trivia and clutter. No matter where the eye roamed, one was met by beauty and affection, by signs of human care. All this had been brought about by the high standards set by my mother and followed by her family and by all whom she employed.

Christmas eve was a feast of exotic aromas. The moment you opened the outside gate to the house and walked into the open gallery, you did not want to have a shower and change, instead, you walked up to the wire-mesh food safe. There you would see through the fine metallic weave the most delicate, softest lemon cake made for us children, and, for the adults, a rich, moist, treacle-coloured fruit cake made of sultanas and raisins and currants and prunes which had been soaked in rum for two months. This cake would make visiting friends and relatives lift their heads and appeal to the gods --'My god, this is champion!' -- giving praise with their lips and eyes.

There were bottles of cashew nuts and large peanuts; freshly baked white bread and sweet bread made with fruit and nuts and ginger. There were home-made ginger ale and cherry brandy and, on the table beside a most elegant, patterned glass cakestand (supporting a perfect cake waiting to be cut), red wine in a frosted decanter. [92, 93-94]

Christmas in Trinidad appears here a time of "cleanliness," "exotic aromas," wonderful fruitcakes, and ordinary things becoming seemingly enchanted. How is this like the mythical Christmas of Dicken's Pickwick. What can we conclude from the fact that the author is narrating a child's Christmas?

What do the author's explanations of Hindusim and rejection of christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, later in the text suggest about the place of Christmas in Trinidadian culture?


Persaud, Lakshmi. Butterfly in the Wind. Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 1990.

Main Web Page Caribbean Trinidad and Tobago Lakshmi Persaud

Last modified 17 January 2003