Carols and Cakes, Plums and Pines—Looking at the Indianized Christmas

Plum cakes and cookies on the lap, tucked warmly under the blanket, with the choir singing the carols outside while taking their turns in the houses they are supposed to visit, headed by someone dressed as Santa in bright red and black costume—yeah, that’s pretty much what makes the Christmas to most of the kids in India. A vast and diverse country where the festival is less about the faith that one belongs to and more about the glittering lights, the big bright star hanging outside the door of a few houses, and of course, the excitement to actually get to see Santa Claus in awe and bewilderment. This definitely becomes an exception in places like Goa—and majorly the Southern part of the country populated significantly by Christians—and in Kolkata, where the festival is celebrated with much oomph and gusto thanks to its strong holding on to the colonial past. However, over time the festival has come to be synonymous with excellent decorations across all establishments and public infrastructure, as well as raining discounts on all major shopping centers, especially in urban metros. It has become common to spot people shopping for homemade plum and fruit cakes, and all-glittery green pine trees—to be found in a temporary shack put up only for those ten days stretching roughly a week before Christmas to the New Year.
What also has transformed over time is the association of the festive spirit becoming more Americanized and blending uniquely with the Eurocentric history of the country. For most of the 90s and the early 2000s, Christmas quintessentially meant watching Home Alone on VCR cassettes, wrapping up warmly in the Christmas Carol vibe. For the convent school breed, it was all about being a rot-learner of almost all the existing carols and showing off their singing talent to friends belonging to the public education system, or… just not the convent environment. The post-2000 era was all about non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Indian Americans gushing about the new life in the new land with dollars in the pockets. It also meant the ushering in of the global melting pot that the “States” stand for, which South Asians craved to be part of while also striving to keep alive their native cultures and customs. And it becomes the most apparent perhaps during the ‘holiday season’ when the fleet heads back home or celebrates the “English” festival in the newfound land itself. For those in the US, it becomes an extended reflection of how the festival is celebrated back in the homeland, with churches ringing out the Malayalam Devivam Pirakkunu or Punjabi Sada Yesu Aj and Bangla Eshe Gelo Sei Subho Din, rather than the English renditions of carols and hymns, thus fascinatingly intermingling the colors of the NRIs’ diverse world. And since the festival marks the celebration in spirit rather than in religious fervor, charity becomes an integral part for most of the Indians and South Asians living both back home or abroad—a gesture attempting to perhaps resonate with the warmth of “home” and belongingness that they miss residing far away from their dear ones. Anywhere in New York or California someone with a turban on the head or belonging to the other part of the globe—yet having lived long enough in the States to call it their home—can be seen offering a glass of warm milk or chocolates while wishing everyone the joyous spirit of Christmas. Similarly, a huge gathering, populated by people of all genders, ages and religions, is a common sight in front of the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church in Delhi, situated just opposite of one of the most famous Sikh temples, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.

 


srijasanyal

MA and BA from University of Delhi in English Literature, along with a certificate course on Feminist Dissent from the University of Warwick. Currently working as Research Scholar with the Ronin Institute, Montclair, USA, I am undertaking research in the field of gender and queer theory in the Indian context. I am particularly interested in the intersection of literature with gender studies and its subsequent adaptation in various media forms, especially visual media (Indian cinema), across cultures (South Asian, and Indian, in particular).

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