Tell them James Brown sent you

Fraud doesn’t work on me so as far as I remember, there wasn’t ever a time that I personally believed in Santa.

I was raised muslim but every year, my mother would insist on decorating our sad plastic tree a day or two before Christmas. Almost as if she was spiritually wrestling with the idea of it and then caved at the last minute. She was the most serious muslim in our household so this was a yearly source of consternation for me. Plenty of fairly innocuous secular activities were deemed haram (forbidden) in our house so you would think that Christmas, gold medallist of haram olympics would be a non starter.

We had a set of those 100 multi-color synchronized musical mini Christmas lights. Yes, colored lights (lights of color?) that play Christmas music when plugged in. I never enjoyed decorating the tree. It always started off as a family activity where everyone was happy to hang an ornament here and there but somehow I always ended up having to deal with the damn lights by myself. Every year, I would unpack, untangle, and plug in the fairy twinkle lights, only to discover something didn’t work. Sometimes individual lights were burned out and I had to replace a bulb, but other times the entire string seemed dead and it was a bigger headache. I’m getting frustrated just thinking about it and to this day, some of my least favorite words in any language are “filament” and “shunt.” Oh and “circuit breaker.”

One year, the lights were beyond repair and we had to get new ones. I was young but I knew this was definitely out of our very tight budget. Where were we going to find lights we couldn’t afford to celebrate a holiday we had no business celebrating?

I had hoped this would be the year my mom would finally break the Santa is fake news to the youngest members of our family. Instead she and I got in the car. The first pit stop was to a house not too far from ours. She asked me to wait in the car and when she returned a few minutes later, she transferred a stack of crisp bills out of a white handkerchief into her purse. I carefully studied her face and noticed that she was now missing the gold earrings and gold bracelet she wore every day. I had so many questions about why we were on this doomed expedition and why we never seemed to have enough money. She didn’t say a word and I was burning with too much shame to ask anything. So we drove off in search of lights all over the Lagos mainland. We didn’t say much to each other but thanks to the miracle of FM radio, I discovered that day that James Brown had an extensive catalogue of Christmas songs and that despite her passable English, my mother seemed to know most of them. There is so much we do not know about the people who raise us.

When we finally found lights, she insisted on getting the clear ones. “These will offend you less,” she said. Does anyone know you like a mother knows you?? Because even though I had never said this to her before, clear lights are 100% the only acceptable lights to me.

That particular Christmas has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe because back then I was so focused on how little we had and now I understand how wrong I was to believe that. In the midst of the pandemic, I am trying to resist that kind of thinking. Yes, it’s been a really hard year for everyone around the world including me but if I am honest, for me at least and in so many ways, it’s also been an unexpectedly rich and fulfilling year. 2020 is not the worst year of my life.

My mother has been dead almost 15 years and I am mostly still a grinch during this season. That said, every once in a while I allow myself a few hours of soulful xmas jams and lie to myself that next year, maybe, I’ll get a tree.

If it’s not too fraught, do something nice for the people who raised you. They’re just weirdos who tried to do their very best. If it’s too painful, that’s OK too. You are enough and did a really good job raising yourself so do something nice for the person in the mirror.

Wow did I just blog? Because this feels like a blog. Never again. See you Saturday.