I’ve never really celebrated Christmas in the true Christian way of going to church, as I am not Christian. But I grew up in a Christian community, went to a Christian school, acted in the Christmas play, sang in the Christmas choir and went caroling around the houses with the other kids. It was more the run up to Christmas that we took part in rather than eating anything special on Christmas day or giving presents or having a tree. In the run up to my first Christmas in London (2002) I was a bit worried as all my college friends went home and I really had nothing to do but house sit for an Indian couple living in the posh suburbs of Southgate while writing my semester papers, petrified to leave the house as it was snowing like a b@star^ and I’d never used a burglar alarm before. So how does a non-Christmas celebrating Hindu celebrate Christmas?
We have so many gods in Hindu mythology and they all have birthdays that we celebrate with the same enthusiasm as people in the west celebrate Christmas. We have Janmashtmi to celebrate Krishna’s birthday, Ganesh Chathurthi to celebrate Ganesh’s birthday, even the weddings and battles of our gods are celebrated. Christians only have one god so one festival for his birthday. We got loads to celebrate in India. It became quickly obvious that none of my English friends, bar two older couples go to church on Christmas, just like I don’t go to the temple on Hindu festivals. Christmas has become a generic holiday that anyone can celebrate the spirit of it rather than why it actually exists. I guess being so close to the New Year it’s a good starting point to the celebrations. Even Vizag was all lit up yesterday. Up until I went to England I never did anything special for Christmas, it was just a holiday. But when you are in a country where EVERYBODY celebrates Christmas, you can’t help but celebrate it too.
Out of my 6 English Christmases, I had 2 traditional ones with a Scottish family living in Yorkshire, North of England – drinking till late in the village pub on Christmas Eve, orange juice and champagne on Christmas morning while presents were opened under the tree and a late lunch of a beef roast with all the trimmings and the moments in between were punctuated with lolling around in front of the TV watching Christmas specials. The funniest was watching the family watching the Queen’s speech, half scoffing at it and half actually interested in this great British tradition. The best Christmas was in Newcastle, visiting a large family of varied political and social minds, battling awkward but hilarious dinner table conversation and eating a fantastic goose. I have no idea why people bother with turkey and Christmas pudding. I just couldn’t get it and still don’t. Goose is definitely the way to go.
I awoke on Christmas of 2004 to the news of the Tsunami back home and a quick call to ensure that any family members living in Chennai were all safe. Much later I came to know of friends who were on the beach at Mahabalipuram as they saw the big wave receding and had the presence of mind to know that something wasn’t right and got the hell out of there quick before the sea rushed in. So while many are celebrating, there are people who have befallen great personal tragedy on Christmas morning and they must be remembered.
My last Christmas while I lived in the UK, my Jewish friend and I went to Guatemala, far far away from the madness and pressure of London’s shopping and buying gifts for people. It made me wonder why I hadn’t gone far away for Christmas in the 7 years I lived in England. The year I left the UK I flew back to India on Christmas day. I flew by the really dodgy (smoking in the toilets, guys who were clearly packing weapons) now defunct Syrian Airlines, so I wasn’t expecting anything festive. By the end of 7 years in London I had become completely jaded by the whole Christmas rigmarole, especially the office party and all that mulled wine… So I vibe with Sheldon Cooper’s ( of the show Big Bang Theory) lack of Christmas cheer. My favourite line is when he tries to convince the others that it would be more appropriate to have Sir Issac Newton at the top of the Christmas tree rather than a star because “December 25, 1642, Julian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton is born. Jesus, on the other hand, was actually born in the summer. His birthday was moved to coincide with a traditional pagan holiday that celebrated the winter solstice with lit fires and slaughtered goats. Which, frankly, sounds like more fun than 12 hours of church with my mother followed by a fruitcake.”
But no matter how skeptical you are, everybody remembers Christmas for one thing – FOOD. Good Food. This is my
second third Christmas with my husband and last night (Christmas eve) we went to the newly opened Novotel hotel’s The Square restaurant for a special Christmas feast. And a feast it was. Usually going out for dinner in Vizag can be quite depressing. I only like going out for dinner if I know that what I’m eating I can’t possibly make at home. And without bragging too much, I can say that Vizag disappoints. But the Novotel was really worth it. Sadly we were so focussed on eating as much as we could that I forgot to take any pictures! So you’ll just have to open your mind’s eye and believe me when I say that we had a veritable smörgåsbord of fantastic starters in teeny portions on even teenier dishes, including duck breast with orange and hoisin sauce, octopus with broccoli and fennel in a Japanese dressing, the obligatory prawn cocktail, chicken liver pate, pork terrine, and lots of salad and fresh vegetables with a variety of dressings. This is Vizag – can you believe the dishes I just said. I was mighty impressed that the Novotel actually gambled that the conservative people of Vizag would go for Octopus and duck. We did have the turkey but didn’t bother with the Indian food on the Christmas buffet. The desserts were in tiny shot glasses – apple and cranberry cobbler, a ginger, cranberry and pear mush with a vanilla sabayon and so much more that I couldn’t take it all in. Unfortunately, all the cakes were very dry under the harsh air-conditioning.
But what if you don’t have good food to celebrate with on Christmas. I got a strange request from a father I didn’t know to cook a Christmas meal for his family because his wife had died two years ago and Christmas was a hard time for him and his two small boys. I had plenty to do with getting my own Christmas dinner ready but how could I refuse. How could I refuse such a request? How could I refuse doing something good and totally in sync with the Christmas spirit, with the human spirit. So at the last moment the only meal I could think of was a big lasagna, potatoes au gratin, a salad and big fat gooey chocolate brownies.
I got a message from the father last night saying that the food was excellent. Boy do I feel good, and virtuous. Is that just a horrible thing – that I can’t do a selfless good deed i.e do a good deed without feeling pretty good about myself for doing something for someone else? The best good deed is the one where you don’t know that you are doing it. If you cook for your family or for people you know then that’s the best good deed you can do.
So today my good deed is to cook us a roast chicken with crispy skin and all the trimmings. Await the pictures tomorrow…