- 2012elections - 9/11 Special Coverage - aca - africanamericanalzheimers - aids - Alabama News Network - american - Awards & Expo - bees - bilingual - border - californiaeducation - Caribbean - cir - citizenship - climatechange - collgeinmiami - community - democrats - ecotourism - Elders - Election 2012 - elections2012 - escuelas - Ethnic Media in the News - Ethnicities - Events - Eye on Egypt - Fellowships - food - Foreclosures - Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area - Health Care Reform - healthyhungerfreekids - howtodie - humiliating - immigrants - Inside the Shadow Economy - kimjongun - Latin America - Law & Justice - Living - Media - memphismediaroundtable - Multimedia - NAM en Espaol - Politics & Governance - Religion - Richmond Pulse - Science & Technology - Sports - The Movement to Expand Health Care Access - Video - Voter Suppression - War & Conflict - 攔截盤查政策 - Top Stories - Immigration - Health - Economy - Education - Environment - Ethnic Media Headlines - International Affairs - NAM en Español - Occupy Protests - Youth Culture - Collaborative Reporting

When Santa Claus Comes to India

Khabar, News Feature, Posted: Dec 25, 2009

New Delhi, December 24, 8:40 p.m. Meena K. is hurrying home; she is honking at the maddening traffic snarl. Meena needs to reach the hardware store before it downs its shutters at 9 p.m. No, she doesnt have a leaking faucet or dripping roof. She just needs to pick up a pack of plaster of Paris to make Santas footprints on her tiled living room floor. Her four-year-old has hung a green-and-red stocking on the door. Adi expects Santa will tiptoe into his home and leave behind the miniature Harley that he had seen and longed for in the toy shop last week. A plaster of Paris footprint would be perfect, Meena has decided. The Harley is home, hidden in the closet. At 8.55 p.m. Meena huffs up to the hardware store. Phew! She made it.

Just before midnight, Meena makes the plaster of Paris batter, slips into her husbands size 9 sneakers, makes neat footprints on the beige tiles and drops the Harley in the stocking. Then she curls up, sure that Adi would be wide-eyed about Santas visit.

Meena is hardly the only Indian being Santa-sure on Christmas Eve. Many others go to great lengths to make the day special for themselves and others. In the misty night of Christmas Eve, Rubal Chaudhry, general manager of The Claridges, a tony hotel in New Delhi, is hovering around the patisserie to ensure that the special Christmas cakes are baked to perfection, and that trinkets on the huge Christmas tree in the lobby are sparkling. In Goa, the Vazes are getting the dodal dough ready for a traditional sweetmeat made of rice flour, coconut and jaggery. Pranab Bora, a magazine editor in Guwahati, is tuning his guitar for the all-night carol-singing spree, while Sarah Tariang, a government employee in Shillong, is sewing that last sequin on her dress for the midnight mass.

Far away in a south Indian town, the Hindu Reddys join their Christian neighbors, the Josephs, in celebrating the birth of Christ. The low rooftops of both the houses are lined with earthen lamps, and the mango and banana trees are convenient substitutes for the traditional pine tree.

Neeta Raheja, a public relations professional, is getting gift hampers ready for her client, an aromatherapy expert, while Adishwar Puri of Flower Crafts, a New Delhi-based supplier of flower wreaths and scented candles, hollers instructions to his workers to paint the pine cones red for a ritzy restaurants oh-so-Christmas dcor. In a bustling newspaper office, the editor of an English daily wriggles into a Santa suit, glues on the nylon beard, stuffs chocolates in the red goody bag and rehearses a guttural ho-ho-ho before walking into the editorial room to double as the days Santa.

Chopra Auntie, Khanna Uncle, Bittu Didi, young Sameer, hip Priyanka, little Adithey are all busy wrapping gifts for friends. It is not the gift that matters; it is Christmas, the festival that has transcended religion and become a reason to dive into the festive spiritthe perfect way to end a year and usher in a new one.

The Christmas fever that grips the country can be surprising to those who would not have expected it in a predominantly Hindu nation. Even though less than ten percent of the population in India is Christian, the yuletide festivities capture the attention of the mainstream to the extent that it is quite visible, at least in urban India. The marketplace does not miss another golden opportunity after the lull that follows Diwali. Restaurants rustle up special Christmas menus, cakes fly off bakery shelves, gig-lamps are wrapped in public places, pubs host live shows, radios blare Christmas music throughout the day and liquor sales shoot up.

The dazzling number of new malls that the country sports go all out to embrace Christmas. From massive Christmas trees at their entrances to the customary sales, the mall ambiance around this time of the year is not too different than in the United States. Visitors to India may be surprised at the countless Santas found in malls, multiplexes, eateries and elsewhere.

Schools, and not just the ones run by the convents, get visits from the jolly old man. No reindeers or sleighs, but who caresas long as theres that plump, old man in his red outfit distributing cookies and candies. For children, Santa is a cute photo op and Christmas is a mandatory babys day out on many familiess calendar. In India, becoming an impromptu Santa is not a tedious chore either; all you have to do is pick a cheap Santa cap from a hawker at the streetlight. If that does not say enough about Christmas celebrations in India, what does?

The energy within the Christmas community is palpable. Churches and homes are scrubbed clean and painted, streets are lit, Nativity scenes crop up, and homes are adorned with candles.

Variety is the spice of Christmas in India

The variety of style, traditions and cuisine surrounding Christmas celebrations in India is astounding, and reflective of the diversity that so characterizes the nation. Walk into McCluskieganj, a sleepy town in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, and you would savor the aroma of rum cakes and biscottis in the air. The smell is so reminiscent of the typical English Christmasdainty cakes with crocheted covers, porcelain cups, carols, women in ribbed skirts and floral scarves, men in their Sunday best and little children in flouncy frocks and Alice bands. It is not surprising, for this dusty place hemmed by hills laden with green was once the largest Anglo-Indian settlement in the country. There were nearly 300 Anglo-Indian families; now there are barely 10, but Christmas here is still so British in its flavor.

Not too far away in Ranchi, the Ravens, a tribal family, start pounding rice long before the Christmas day. They buy their cakes, but for them Christmas is never complete without arsa, a deep fried sweetmeat made of rice and jaggery. Preparations, however, go much beyond the kitchen: homes are whitewashed, lanterns and stars are bought, and artificial Christmas trees are decorated with flakes and stars. After the midnight mass, merrymaking continues. They dont await Santa; rather, friends and family gather to feast on fermented rice brew, roast chicken and of course, the arsa. Says Nirmala Raven, a banker: Santa is for the kids; for us it is about Jesus. Christmas means a lot of expense in buying new clothes and gifts for family and friends, but nothing means more to us than this.

In the Northeast, preparations begin almost a month before the big day. The local Elvises in Shillong strum their guitars and spend nights getting the carols right. The hip and the happening get groovy, for they know they have to dance the night away. The churches across the seven states get decked with poinsettias, large stars hanging at the doors and yes, the ubiquitous Nativity scenes displayed with clay figurines or in plays enacted in every school and neighborhood.

What are festivities without sumptuous food? In the Northeast it has to be rice and pork cooked in large pots, served on large banana leaves and eaten together, all this washed down with wine or local brew. Says magazine editor Bora: I am not a Christian, but if you are in Shillong, you cannot escape the festivities. Theres all-night carol singing, truckloads of beer, and everyone grooves all night. To Bora, Christmas is not about religion; it is all about celebrating life.

In south India, you might not see so many Christmas trees, at least not in the traditional homes. Instead, you would see mango or banana trees adorned with buntings, icicles, stars and bells. The family elders spend hours twisting cotton to turn them into wicks to dip in oil and light their earthen lamps. The low-roofed houses are usually not lit with twinkling lights; instead, earthen lamps are arranged on roofs and verandahs, like Diwali lamps in north India. The sweetmeat basket contains homemade cakes and traditional delicacies. In churches, candles are lit and carols are sung, concluding with an impressive fireworks display. In Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), kolaata (stick dance) and home-grown Nativity manger scenes usher in the festival; Telugu Christians celebrate the Lord with harikathas (stories of the Lord); and the large Anglo-Indian population feasts on pot roast lunch and sips on wine that is brewed a year in advance and aged. In Tamil Nadu, there is anticipation for Christmas Thatha, as Santa Claus is known in Tamil.

No conversation about Christmas in India can be complete without a mention of Goa, the tiny state that has become the favorite haunt of celebrities during Christmas. Such is the fame of Goas Christmas that if you walk in without a booking you might not even find a shack to snooze in. So crowded is it that you might have to jostle for a little elbow space and a glimpse of the Lord in a crib. The natives put on their Sunday best and head to churches to participate in midnight mass, Missa de Galo (literally, cock crow, because the mass goes on till the wee hours of the morning). Afterward, theres traditional dancing, food, the local specialty bebinca for dessert and the feni, a fermented cashew nut drink. In Goa, during Christmas, every beach turns into a dance floor and every moment a reason to forget the woes of the year gone by. There are carnivals with Nativity tableaux, lavish buffet spreads in hotels, and overflowing wine as the celebrations stretch to the beginning of a new year. For the jet set and the moneyed in India, Christmas has become synonymous with Goa; for them there is no better place on earth to celebrate it and there is no better sight than the lit-up Se Cathedral, which has one of the largest bells in the world.

From homemade authenticity to malls and marketing

Old-timers bemoan the fact that like most everything else, Christmas, too, has become commercialized. Writer and librarian Maria de Lourdes Bravo DCosta laments, Christmas was (once) all about religion, but no longer so?. Money changed everything Indeed, Christmas was once solemn. It was all about Christ, his life and his teachings. People would gather in their neighborhood church for midnight mass and spend the day singing hosannas to the Lord. Community celebrations were simple: churches were scrubbed and decked, Nativity plays were staged, and there was no ballyhoo, no extravaganza. But that was all before marketing honchos sniffed a revenue churner in Christmas, and malls got into the act in a big way.

DCosta waxes nostalgic about the days when savories and cakes were made at home and the Christmas tree was never the synthetic Chinese one. But she is happy that the number of people attending midnight mass has increased over the years. The traditional Christmas lunch is still chicken/pigling, cake and savories, though they are no longer cooked at home.

Kalpana Verma, now in her forties, remembers the cake that the nuns in her Catholic school baked during Christmas. Decades have passed since she left school, but the taste of that rum cake still lingers in her mind. Michael Dalvi, a former Ranji cricket player who owns an organic spa and resort, joins the nostalgia trip. He remembers how his Scottish mother poured port in thimble-sized glasses and how dainty the plum cakes were. Those days are gone forever, he says, wishing he could have those good ol Christmases back.

But not many are complaining. Certainly not eight-year-old Akshat Das. He is still unsure whether Santa is real or imagined, but all that matters to him is the gift Santa brings him every year. Just before his school shuts down for winter holidays, Santa arrives with a bag full of chocolates. If you ask him whether he thinks Santa is real, he would probably just scratch his head, shrug and mutter, Who cares?

The commercial side of Christmas certainly appeals to many. Adishwar Puri, for one, has been exporting wreaths, swags and garlands for almost two decades now. There has been incredible increase in domestic demand for candles and wreaths; no one wants to miss the Christmas bus, says Puri, who gets extremely busy before Christmas, decking up restaurants and hotels in the typical Christmas colors and look. For Raheja, the PR professional, Christmas is the best time to give gifts. Until recently, Diwali was the occasion when gifts were sent to clients and corporate houses; now it is Christmas, says Raheja, who has noticed a definite trend towards eco-friendly gifts during Christmas.

Another commercial fallout is the whopping increase in liquor sales during the Christmas season. As the Bacchanalian spirit takes over, no meal is complete without a glass of ones favorite drink. Says Paramjit Singh, a regional director for the Edrington Group, a Scottish spirit maker: Traditionally, Indians prefer dark liquors during winter as compared to ales, which are considered a summer drink. India is fast becoming a market for high-end single malts like Macallan and it is during Christmas that they are most in demand. This trend is evident primarily in cities and metropolises.

Some Indians are even ready to stretch beyond boundaries to celebrate Christmas and fly more than 5,000 miles to see the real Santa in Rovaniemi, the so-called Santas Village in Finland. Last year, there were more than 1,200 overnights in Rovaniemi and the numbers are growing each day, says Papori Bharati, the marketing manager in India for the Finnish tourism program Visit Finland. Even temperatures below minus 20 degrees Celsius in Rovaniemi do not seem to deter the diehard Indian traveler.

Back home in India, well before the bells clang at the stroke of midnight to announce the birth of the Lord, Christiansand non-Christiansall over the country get ready for the special occasion. Stockings are hung by the fireplace or in windows, new clothes are bought, rum is mixed into the dough for the special Christmas cakes, poinsettias are watered, homes painted, hymns practiced, guitars tuned and delicacies baked. At midnight, when the bells clang, many sing hosannas. And the next morning, the celebration continues. For December 25 is special, and young Adi, excited to see Santas footprints on the living room floor, is not the only one enraptured by it. Millions in India are.

Page 1 of 1




Just Posted

NAM Coverage

Arts & Entertainment