Now, I have had the fortune of travelling across India , thanks to my dad’s travelling itch , So I have been in the North, in the West and in the South of India and got an opportunity to experience Christmas in all these regions. I spend my childhood in Ludhiana, Punjab and attended a Christian school, so I experienced the Christmas treatment in school . We used to have this Christmas party every year around the 22nd or 23rd where you could wear anything you wanted to school. And it was on that day, ordinary school girls with pig tails would transform into eye-catching beauties sporting the latest fashion. Such transformation is only possible at that magical age called adolescence. The school choir would belt out timeless Christmas carols and there would be a whole lot of interesting stuff on the agenda. But the thing most looked forward to, was the gift exchanging ceremony called the 'Shelly Party'. Now no one really knows how it got that name. All we knew was it was called 'Shelly Party' and no one really had the time nor the inclination to dig into the details. My wildest guess is that maybe someone called Shelly started the whole thing, or it was a corruption of the term 'sharing party' but then, who really cared ! To elaborate further, Shelly Party was a gift exchanging ceremony , wherein a couple of weeks before the Christmas party , chits were drawn with all the class student’s name and each student had to pick a chit and buy a gift for that person within a price range specified of course. I don’t quite remember what gifts I got through the years, but when I was in the 7th grade, my class teacher happened to draw my name and I got a very pretty box full of chocolate bars!
At home, a couple of weeks before Christmas, mom would get into a flurry of activitiy, preparing ‘faral’ ( for those who don’t know Marathi, 'faral' is the term for the goodies prepared at festivals) . So there were doughnuts , chakli , shankarpali , karanji, besan & rava ka ladoo, sev and of course Christmas cake . For a few years she used to make cake at home , but later hired a bakery fella to bake it for her. She would give him the ingredients and he would mix the batter and bake it for her . So you see, she was very futuristic, she used the concept of outsourcing even before it was tried out by IBM ! During that period our eating habits would change drastically, we literally lived on ‘faral’ much to the annoyance of my mother. But you can’t be crabby during Christmas, can you? !
Dad used to work for a Christian hospital, and so we used to have a whole lot of parties for each department in the hospital. And of course there was the late night carol singing for us kids. I loved those times; we used to go carol singing till 1.00 am and come back home unescorted most of the times. And even now when I sing ‘O come all ye faithful’, it brings back those sweet memories, when life was simple and cities safe !
Then there was the Christmas stocking bit ! I still don’t believe how could we fall for that Santa Claus act . For me Santa Claus was very real. . And our parents played royally on our staunch belief and left written notes advising how we should behave during the year. I remember a time when I was probably in my 2nd grade, my dad actually made a call to Santa ( beat that !) and told him that I had been a good girl that year and wanted a doll for Christmas. Gawd ! dumb or innocent !
When I was in my 8th grade , my folks moved to a small town in Maharashtra, and my school there was not a christian school, so celebrating Christmas at school was pretty much out of the question. But, since my father worked for a mission hospital, Christmas was a huge affair on the campus. There would be these games and sports conducted for the kids, and I remember me winning at musical chairs and lemon and spoon ! Heh heh .. I still blush at the thought of me running with a spoon and lemon in my mouth .. but those were innocent times . An of course there was the Nativity Play in Sunday school . And all of us girls either wanted to be Mary or an Angel. Of course , till date I never got to be Mary and I got to play the angel only twice in my life. It was either the shepherd or the support role for me ! Heh heh and once when I was a tiny little kid , I even got to play the sheep ! Match that !
By the time we moved down south , I was in junior college already and Christmas after that was never the same , as I always had exams around that time . Right from that time till my post grad , I have always had exams around Christmas time . So Christmas was generally a few hours affair where I attended church, met a couple of friends and went back to my hostel to prepare for the next day’s exam . I remember , when I was in my 3rd semester of BBA a friend from church came all the way to my hostel ( and she lived pretty far ) to deliver a dabba of steaming biryani ! It was one of the sweetest gestures I have come across.
And that’s what I believe , Christmas is all about . A time to love and share !
Merry Christmas People !