Christmas Greetings from Kandy. Sri Lanka may be 80% Buddhist, but they do like the story of Baby Jesus. For many, religion is like belonging to a club, you can change or be a member of several. Why not enjoy the Poya days (full moon) at the Buddhist temple, Diwali at the Hindu and a few Carols at the Church?
Do you still send Christmas Cards? We still send a few, mainly to let people know that we are still alive and to add a little comfort to those friends who have suffered recent bereavement. Sri Lankan cards are quaint. Is that the word? They exist in a space between a school classroom and a village workshop. The paper is often elephant poo grade or pachyderm paper upon which cut-outs of Christmas trees, sleighs or Santas are pasted.
The sender has to be good at handicrafts too. We took our 15 cards to the Post Office here in Kandy. It is nothing more than a cupboard protected by a grill. We had already discovered that the envelopes provided had no gum on their flaps so sticky tape and scissors were needed.
“For the UK, Madam? That will be 95 rupees.” Postage works out at 45-50 p to the UK. From the UK to Sri Lanka is up to £2.27.
Fifteen 35 Rs, 50 Rs and 10 Rs stamps were handed over and 15 ‘Par Avion’ stickers. Stickers? No, not stickers, there is no glum on anything, as we discovered after licking the first two. The lady behind us gestured to a small glue-pot at the corner of the counter. There was just about enough glue for our 60 stamps and Air Mail notes. We had to squeeze tightly into a corner to give others access to the counter.
Every so often we offered up the glue-pot to someone with just one item to tick. It was not just the sticking, the stamps had to be torn along the perforations from their sheets. The glue was not just for the stamps, it spread widely, fingers, hands, envelopes, the counter, the blank tear-offs which then stuck where they should not.
Sri Lankans are lovely people, they regarded us cack-handed westerners with amusement. They helped to pick up dropped cards and stamps and pointed out when we forgot a sticker. There were no ‘Tut, tuts,’ no comments about being slow or just idiots, no shoving with the excuse that ‘I’m a busy man.’
I remember my schoolboy collection of Ceylon stamps from the 40s and 50s. Always among the prettiest and most colourful and so they are still today.
The 35 Rs stamp shows Habenaria acuminata, a small orchid first discovered by George Henry Kendrick Thwaites, a botanist from Bristol who became the second director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, close to Kandy. They are called Royal Botanical Gardens because they were founded early in Queen Victoria’s reign. It was Thwaites who recognised the coffee blight which destroyed the coffee industry out here (1850-60).
The 50 Rs stamp has Impatiens henslowiana, a shrub and herb that grows in rocky conditions near streams.
For 10 Rs you get just a binary coloured depiction of a guard-stone of Rathna Prasodaya, an ancient temple built about 167 CE in Anuradhapura and restored in the 9th century, (and you thought Winchester Cathedral was old!)
If you did not get one of the 15 cards, fear not, be of good cheer, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.