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Sunita hummed her favourite Christmas carols as she made breakfast. Soon it would be the best part of the day. The kids would open their gifts from Santa.
As Sunita poured out the last of the pancake batter in to the frying pan, she called out to her daughters. It would be at least another 10 minutes before they actually woke up. By then all the pancakes and two steaming cups of chocolate milk with marshmallows floating in them would be ready on the table. A Christmas treat the girls looked forward to all year long.
Sunita wasn't Christian. Born Hindu, she considered herself an atheist. But Christmas, to her, wasn't about religion. It was about creating magical moments with her loved ones.
Santa was a big part of it. She could hear her kids all excited. As Sunita entered the room, she saw Reema, all of 6, standing on a stool trying to reach an over stuffed stocking hanging from the hook on the door. Her 3 year old sister Ria was cheering her on. Finally Reema managed to get Ria's stocking out. She handed it to her excited little sister and worked on detaching the second one.
Sunita could have helped her of course, but that would make it less fun. The anticipation, the suspense, the struggle and the satisfaction of succeeding while her sister cheered her on, all added to the magic and Sunita would not spoil one bit of it. Just like, when she herself was a little girl.
But the sadness she had consciously pushed away all morning suddenly engulfed her. No she could not succumb to it. She had promised Sudhir she would stay cheerful.
The most special aspect of Christmas for Sunita, was sharing it with her BFF Manisha. Manisha, was away in Cochin celebrating Christmas with her in laws. Not seeing Manisha, on Christmas day for the first time ever (well since she was 4 actually) made Sunita sad. But, Manisha had just got married, and would probably spend many a Christmas away. Sunita would have to get used to that.
Surprisingly, Sudhir, had rescued Christmas. “It is sad that you have to let go of such a dear tradition. But you have no control over it. What you do have control over, is how you spend your Christmas. You can spend it moping over lost traditions, or you can create new ones with me and the girls, that will last another few decades. Christmas may not be exactly as it used to be, but you can keep the magic alive. The power is yours.”
“Hmmph!” Sunita frowned. Why did Sudhir always have to make so much sense.
“We can go to Mainland China for lunch you know.” Sudhir winked.
Mainland China, that does sound good, Sunita thought.
“Is that a tiny smile I detect?” Sudhir asked grinning from ear to ear.
“May be.” Sunita conceded reluctantly. The thought of her favourite dishes at Mainland China made her salivate. “We'll have roast lamb with Mahlak sauce and the chocolate spring rolls for dessert.” Sunita was beaming.
“Whatever you like. Just so long as you promise to be cheerful.”
“Okay. I can do that!” Sunita went to bed on Christmas eve truly happy.
The sight of her daughters squealing with joy as they opened each of their little gifts cheered Sunita.
“Mama can we have the chocolates after breakfast?” Reema asked eagerly.
“Santa gave them to us.” Ria piped in.
“Of course.” Sunita smiled and hugged them both. “ You know the rules. This one day, it's all magic, no rules.”
Just then Sudhir popped his head in to the kid's room to see how they were enjoying their Christmas spoils.
The family had a scrumptious breakfast. They chatted merrily while they cleared up the table. There was a while before they had to get ready to leave for lunch.
“Lets play Wii.” Sudhir suggested.
“Yay Wii! Yess yess yess.” Reema skipped off to set up the Wii.
Ria followed her singing “Wii Wii, we're going to play Wii, eeee heee heee hee hee.”
The family played Wii tennis, in doubles mode. Sudhir and Ria played in one team as partners and Sunita and Reema in the other. They were having a marvellous time. Sudhir invented a happy dance, he did with Ria, every time they scored a point. It was funny and made Sunita and Reema laugh, even though they had lost a point.
Then suddenly in the midst of such a happy dance Sudhir yelped in pain. He couldn't move. It took Sunita a moment to realise what was going on. The laughter died in her throat as she watched Sudhir struggle in agony to get up.
“What happened?” Sunita was scared.
“My back. I threw my back or twisted it or something. Ouch!” Sudhir whispered through clenched teeth.
Sunita nodded. She knew Sudhir had a bad back problem, but only once, almost 10 years ago, had it been so bad.
Sunita lent her arm for support but it didn't help much. She could not support his entire weight. The girls too were scared. Finally about 10 minutes later Sudhir was able to stand up very slowly, fighting excrutiating pain, and it took him 10 whole minutes to limp his way to the bed and another few to lie down.
“I'm sorry.” Sudhir whispered.
“Sorry?” Sunita was puzzled.
“We won't be able to go to Mainland China. I ruined your Christmas.”
“Oh don't worry about that now. We can always go there another time. Lets take care of your back. Should I get you a hot water bottle?”
Sudhir nodded, and Sunita left to heat water. On her way out she heard Reema ask “Papa should I give you a massage?”
“Papa, are you okay?” Ria asked wide eyed.
As Sunita heated water, she could not help feel a wave of disappointment wash over her. Christmas was ruined again. Then she could not believe what she was thinking. About a silly lunch when Sudhir was in so much pain. Sudhir had done his best to save Christmas for her, and now she must evoke the magic of Christmas to make it wonderful for the family.
Sunita returned with the hot water bottle to see Sudhir and he girls laughing at some joke.
“We can still make Christmas work.” Sudhir offered. “We can order in.”
“Yes and we can play board games, watch a Christmas movie and chat and look after you. It will be perfect.” Sunita smiled. She was finally understanding the real magic of Christmas. The magic that could turn pain and suffering in to cherished moments because of people who deeply cared about each other.