For a country where just seven percent of the population professes to be Christian, Sri Lanka sure seems to love Christmas. That’s the conclusion I draw after tramping about Colombo for the past couple of weeks and snapping pictures of the many festive-themed adornments to the city-streets.
For example, here’s a Nativity scene that’s been created on a little platform just inside the front wall of St Peter’s College on Galle Road. Brightly-coloured figures kneel, bow and pay homage amid the straw: red-robed Magi, blue-and-red-winged angels, the usual little sheep that look like they’ve strayed from a toy farm set. A narrow strip of wood runs from the wall to the platform, looking a bit like a drawbridge that Mary and Joseph can pull up when they get tired of the visitors.
Further down Galle Road, silhouettes of Father Christmas and his reindeer decorate an arch in front of the entrance to the Majestic City shopping complex. I have to say that Santa here looks particularly horrible. He’s a brown, shapeless and worryingly faecal-looking blob with a red Santa-hat on top. They say that you can’t polish a turd, but evidently you can stick a red hat on one and call it ‘Santa’.
Meanwhile, there’s more Santa-related shenanigans down on Marine Drive, where I spotted this life-sized image of him hanging outside a balcony several floors up an apartment building. The building itself looks pretty grotty with rusty-brown stains creeping down the masonry below the satellite TV dishes and air-conditioning extractor fans, and I can’t help wondering if Santa is desperate to climb into the place or climb out of it.
Further down Galle Road at the entrance of another shopping centre, Crescot City, these Christmas ice-palace fortifications have been erected. They’ve become selfie-central for Colombo’s well-heeled young shoppers. When I was there the outside temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius, so it was no surprise that the clumps of snow on the palace’s stonework seemed to be melting. Or that the heavily-clad elf at the top seemed to be flailing with heat exhaustion.
Next door to Crescot City is the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Entering its lobby, the song Pretty in Pink by the Psychedelic Furs immediately started playing in my head because pink is the colour scheme the hotel management have adopted for their Christmas-tree and holly-wreath decorations this year. Downstairs, a floor has been given over to a Christmas Market. During my visit the market’s fish-stall seemed to be selling only long, thick, roasted, smoked and silent-screaming eels. Out of festive delicacy, I will avoid traumatising you by showing pictures of their dead, gaping faces.
Finally, I have to say my favourite Christmas sight in Colombo is this cheap, humble but charming Christmas tree standing outside the Vespa Sports Club, one of the ‘man-pubs’ in the city that I frequent. Sitting drinking beer next to a tatty Christmas tree on a ramshackle veranda in the tropics – for me, that’s what the Spirit of Christmas is all about.