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I come from a clearly un-devout family. Which means, my father was a non-practicing Hindu and my mother was a non-practicing Christian. Let me not misguide you, every year certain pujas had us running to the family temple in North Calcutta and likewise Easter and/or Christmas often meant a visit to church. We were basically given the funda of both religions and left to decide what we wished to believe in. Or not. In fact, when we were growing up I can never remember it being so important to belong. There were no issues about intolerance and I was pretty clueless about what my friends or associates believed in and frankly it never mattered. It still doesn't.
Against that backdrop at one point of time in my life I decided that I was an atheist. "I will never set foot inside another temple or church," I declared, expecting some reaction to my rebellion. My father didn't even look up, "good, you can keep watch over our shoes and stuff," he shrugged. And there I was thenceforth on family holidays, hanging around with an assortment of bags, shoes and belts while the rest of the family visited the needful.
But there was one time of year when the whole family happily became "Christian". Yes, you guessed it, at Christmas. In fact, in Calcutta, the whole city looked forward to celebrating Christmas... Park Street was lit up, New market was overflowing with those plastic Christmas trees and tinsel, the whole lane near Nahoum's smelled delicious with the bakery churning out their goodies and the city got ready to party. Even the weather cooperated, winter was in the air.
And at home too, there would be a big tree in the living room, which my father would happily decorate with tinsel bought from New Market. It was a festive time. My mother would bake Christmas cakes and the smell of roasts and fresh baking hung in the air. School was over for the year, the final exams had been taken care of and we all looked forward to a new year that was fast approaching. We didn't have stockings but made do with empty pillowcases. On Christmas eve we would hand it up and lie awake in the dark under our quilts tucked in under the mosquito nets, hoping for a glimpse of the jolly fat man in red. Christmas mornings had us rushing to our "stockings" which would be crammed with goodies which invariably included jojoops and mints and fudge. For lunch we'd have friends and family over and a lunch amid much laughter and fun. It was truly magical.
When my daughters were small I was very gung-ho about Christmas and Santa Claus and the works. The girls too were super excited. They would hang up their stockings and snuggle in their beds... wondering whether Santa would get all the things on their lists. He didn't, often. The other day I was cleaning out one of my drawers and found one of their notes to Santa "bring me some lipstick and don't tell my Ma," was written in a seven year old hand...can you blame Santa?
It's been a while since they have believed in Santa. But they keep telling their young brothers and sisters the same stories I told them about Santa creeping up the stairs in the dead of night and leaving a glass of milk and some cookies so he could rest a bit.... I smile to myself, that is such an important part of the season: to believe in some magic.
Now I just don't know: I find myself growing older and wearier. The thought of dragging out all the tinsel and decorations fills me with dread. So just like last year early on in December I declared that this year Christmas is cancelled. The girls did not say anything. Until last night. Suddenly the older one (the one with ICSE flashing on her forehead) stared moaning that there's no tree. The other one started off that my almost-six-year-old nephew was waiting to help with the decorations. The older one said it's only two more years till she will have gone away to college and then I will sit by the tree and feel sorry that I did not have it up this year.... yup, emotional blackmail, no less!
So what do you do?
Soon enough, the house was resounding to the sound of Christmas Carols, the niece and nephew were called and all of us hummed and danced as the tree was put up. My other niece who is sadly down with Chicken Pox looked over from her window and bravely waved and sang along!
Ah. So today as soon as I can get away, you will find me frantically planning last minute surprises and buying little presents for Santa to leave under the Christmas tree! How I wish I had an Elf to those for me! Right now there's the Park Street Festival on and the crowds are milling about and the roads are congested with traffic and shoppers ... The thought fills me with dread. As I was leaving for work this morning I complained to the girls; they know I hate traffic and crowds.
"But Ma, it's the season for giving," they declare.
Yes, it is.
And there IS something about Christmas, isn't there, that makes you want to give?
And it's not just about gaily wrapped presents and toffees and tea lights. It's the little bit of ourselves that we give, the little bits of the children that we receive and all the happy memories that we make together...
Merry Christmas everyone!