Merry Christmas to you and your family! My favourite festival is here. It is Christmas morning now and I’m flooded with memories of so many past Christmases. When I was in school it was about buying new clothes. We are six siblings and this used to be a big exercise those days. If you have kids now you will know how fussy and cranky they are when they are buying new clothes. At least my sons are like that. They hate shopping. They pick out the first shirt or trouser that they think suits them and that is that. It’s another matter that they never wear it again. If your kids do not fuss or better still love the experience, then you are either lucky or unlucky depending on the size of your wallet. Those days we kids could not afford to fuss. We were under an autocratic rule where dissent or personal choice was not an option. One year my dad bought a large roll of patterned cloth and got that stitched for all of us. We’re three boys and three girls and we were forced to wear the same outfit that year. Boy, what an experience we had. That was the first and last year that happened. We mutinied and made it clear that we will never again wear something like this. This was the one time my dad relented and he never tortured us like that again.
The other things that stick in my mind are the elaborate preparation for at least one month running up towards the festival. We used to buy spices, dry fruits, and nuts for baking cakes from Dawn Stores or Spencers and soak the dry fruits in brandy for a few weeks. Then we will bake the cakes a few days before Christmas. What a yummy experience that used to be. I will churn the butter and the batter and taste it liberally even before the baking. I used to help my mom make ladoos and other savouries and sweets so I can taste them in the process. Tons of food will be made – biriyani, idlis, mutton kozhambu, cutlets, Ok. I’m hungry now. Sorry for drooling all over this page. I’m going to change the topic.
Then the decorations! There were no shops selling Christmas decorations like we have now. In fact the mountain paper was made at home and can you believe that I still have some of them. They must be more than 35 years old. We used kraft paper (the ones we cover school books with), poster colours, brush and water. We mix each colour with water in separate containers and then dip the brush in each and tap the brush on a ruler over the paper. Drops of colour fall over the paper and as you layer the colours the mountain paper gets created. We grew the grass from mustard or wheat seeds at least 4 to 6 weeks before Christmas. Straw, wood pieces, cotton wool and other available materials were used to create the whole nativity scene. This will be viewed by our friends and family and comparisons will be made with the previous year’s creation or other people’s creations.
On Christmas eve we have a light supper and go for midnight mass, hug and kiss hundreds of friends and family at Church and return home with at least a dozen more people to continue the festivities and celebrations with food, wine, music, dance, more food, more wine, mistletoe and more. There would be at least a hundred people going through our doors that day and the sound of laughter and talk will drift through for a few days more.
Today, we don’t have such get-togethers anymore. We live in nuclear families and any crowd over a dozen is shifted to a hotel and no one has the time or takes the trouble of doing everything themselves. It’s become mechanical and commercial. However, even smaller gatherings can still rekindle the memories of yore. Last night we went for midnight mass, my wife, my sister and I. Supper was at my sister’s home, yes you guessed it, idlis and mutton kozhambu. Mass and the choir were fantastic. The lights and the decoration were many notches higher than what I’ve witnessed earlier. We didn’t bump into hundreds of people we knew, nor did we bring home a dozen others. But the Yuletide spirit was there nevertheless and we rounded it off with an ice cream before we called it a night.
I’m now looking forward to our family lunch where the whole khandaan will show up and rekindle some of the magic of the past and rehash old stories and memories.
I’m grateful I have a large family and many beautiful memories created over several decades that tether us together with love.
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, go create some lovely moments together so these become beautiful memories that linger on for several decades more.