12 Days of Christmas – Candy Gourlay

Here is Candy Gourlay who now hails from London. Candy creates great vid clips and is a lovely person to meet and share stories with – we have done so in a few places around the globe. Here she shares with us a most gorgeous Christmas Memory about her yearly Christmas present delight.

Growing up in Manila, I was constantly struggling with the disconnect between the snowy Christmas I read about in books and the sweltering reality of a tropical city. How I wanted to stand under a sky fluttering with snowflakes, how I wanted to wear woolly hats, jumpers and oh goodness, how cuddly it would be to actually wear mittens like all those tantalising characters in Christmas cards, television commercials and picture books! And what about Santa Claus? In my Collins Junior Illustrated Readers, Santa Claus ho ho’d in his red furry clothes and shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly (which sounded really delicious even though jelly was never on our menu). But how did he deliver presents to Filipino children? How could he climb down a chimney when we had none? Never mind the lack of a hearth, my five siblings and I made do by hanging our stockings on the wall — I say stockings … they were rigid, made of felt and cardboard, purchased in a department store — with no storage capacity for even a Christmas tangerine.

We had a plastic tree that came out of storage around the first week of December. I don’t know why but once I was old enough, the unpleasant task of washing the tree always fell to me, and my first Christmas activity was carefully soaping and rinsing each branch before Dad carefully put it together. Having long ago lost the instructions, he had to lay all the branches out to see which bit belonged where.

My devout mother was torn between enjoying all this Western Christmas magic and steering us towards the idea of Christmas as a religious celebration. Being a drawing family, we made our own nativity scene out of cardboard. As one of the older and therefore not so cute children, I was assigned to draw the boring parts of the nativity – the shepherds. It was my younger brother who was given the honour of drawing the baby Jesus. His Jesus was a tiny cardboard baby with a broad, ever so smug grin. He also drew a sheep with exactly the same smug expression.

On Christmas Eve, the entire family dutifully endured traditional midnight services at a convent chapel across the road from our house. Whoever happened to be the baby at the time was allowed to sleep through the mass, but Mom was quick to thwack us older children with her fan if we began to nod off. To be honest, the drone of the parish priest’s voice put me into a kind of trance, half of me conscious to the soft swishing of women’s fans in the stuffy church and the other half listening for the clatter of reindeer hooves on the galvanised iron rooftops of my neighbourhood.

The services always ended with an explosion of singing from the nuns who lived in the convent — Pasko! Pasko! Pasko nanaman muli! (Christmas! Christmas! It’s Christmas again!) joyful five-part harmonies that sang us out the chapel door. It was hard not to turn around and say, ‘More! More! Another song please, sisters!’

On Christmas morning we all rushed downstairs to sort through the presents that had magically appeared amongst the fake gifts Mom always put under the tree for decorative effect. I seem to remember there was just one present for each child … and though I always knew — everybody knew — what I wanted, I can remember to this day the slight panicky worry that maybe this year would be different. But it was always all right in the end. There it was, my yearly Christmas delight. A book.


Candy Gourlay cut her teeth as a writer working for th​e opposition press during the Marcos dictatorship in Philippines in the 1980s. She married a British journalist and moved to London in 1989, where she began to write for children.

Candy is an enthusiastic SCBWI volunteer and has been blogging for many years on Notes from the Slushpile and on candygourlay.com. Her debut novel Tall Story was shortlisted for many prizes and won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe. Tall Story was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal and selected as one of the 50 best books celebrating cultural diversity in the United Kingdom. Her second book Shine was listed for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

Find out more about Candy at her website here: http://candygourlay.com

One Response to 12 Days of Christmas – Candy Gourlay

  1. Chris, thank you so much for inviting me to join your 12 Days of Christmas. My google alert totally failed to flag this up or I would have commented earlier. My Christmases here in London are so different from my childhood memories of Christmas. Thank you for nudging this mostly fond recollection.

    Candy Gourlay March 4, 2017 at 2:55 am Reply

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