It’s December and the hype has hit its peak or shall I say it has hit the abyss. Christsmas seems to come earlier each year, as the oldtimers might say. I kid you not, I saw Christmas decorations on sale when I was out hunting for Halloween stuff. That was early October. You shut the door on your Thanksgiving guests and the Christmas frenzy begins. They actually have a commercial for something or the other dramatising that very fact. The woman turns around from bidding goodbye to the last of her family after Thanksgiving dinner and looks amazed to find the tree up, lit and trimmed, husband sitting on the couch smugly offering her egg nog. It’s enough to make your head spin.
This year US stores went a step further and opened up Black Friday sales at the midnight hour after Thanksgiving. Let’s see, that gave store employees a whole eighteen hours with their families for Thanksgiving. Yippee for the most important family holiday of the year. When your ten year old tells you we’d better hurry to get to the Black Friday sales, you know something is very wrong. How does she even know the term? Television is constantly bombarding us with the need to shop, shop, shop. It is Christmas in less than four weeks they tell us. And you know, Christmas would never come at all if God forbid we didn’t all go and do our bit by buying hundreds of things we and our friends and family don’t really need!
You know you are old when nostalgia takes over at holiday time. This year I have been missing Christmas in Mangalore since before Thanksgiving came around. Girding myself for the onslaught of buy, buy, buy madness, I begin to think longingly of long ago Christmases in Mangalore. I look out my window and I see the gaudy, kitschy Christmas lighting on the fronts of homes around here and I dream of those simple,ethereal paper stars that began to make their appearance outside homes a couple of weeks before Christmas in Mangalore. Christmas in the suburbs is all about outdoing your neighbours in lighting and outstripping your own efforts from a year ago. I think of those childish Christmas cribs we made with such creativity in school to compete with the other classes. Today ‘crib’ means a rapper’s bling infested home and MTV decides who has the best crib, not Sister Carissima.
One of my dearest memories of Christmases past was the clear, sweet music of young voices earnestly raised in singing solemn and sweet Christmas carols. I have seen nary a caroller in all these years in the US. I spent all last evening teaching Aditi to sing ‘Silent Night’ the way the nuns taught us. We sang it alone and together and then performed for Naresh. We tried singing in parts but that came to grief in a very short while. We spent an hour talking of the birth of Jesus in those desperate and dangerous conditions. I hope she gained a new insight into what Christmas means. Her favorite christmas song used to be ‘Santa baby’. I’m hoping she will love Silent Night and Joy to the World just as much.
In Mangalore, Catholic homes would swing into ‘kuswar’ making mode. Friends would bring around cakes and kuswar, most of it homemade. Oh the joy of having another friend drop by with cakes decorated with dazzling marzipan roses. We’d call dibs on the colors before the cake was cut. On Christmas eve the bells would ring clear and constant. The Catholics would go to Midnight Mass and we’d be outside in the front yard at midnight waiting for the bells of St. Aloysius to toll the hour of Christ’s birth. It was all a long time ago but in those days Christmas meant re-living the magic of the birth of a baby who changed the world. It was a magical night, even for us non-Christians. Who took the Christ child out of Christmas?
This year we have a no-gift policy in our home. Like other Christmases, Aditi will make a gift hamper for underprivileged children and go donate it at a shelter. I plan to spend Christmas Eve in New Orleans, a Catholic enclave if ever there was one in the US. Perhaps we’ll regain the Christmas spirit (as we imbibe other spirits). But as I remind myself, this is New Orleans, where the coming of Lent is celebrated with the manic partying of Mardi Gras. That town sure knows how to throw a party. Christmas Day will be spent celebrating the birth of Jesus and our own Christmas miracle from last year, little Saaket, my nephew, born on Christmas Day 2010, in the face of overwhelming odds. In the place of the manger in a stable we had an incubator in the neonatal ICU. Miracles do happen at Christmas.