Come December and I would start yearning for those exquisite, colourful and musical celebrations and the delicacies that are associated only with Christmas.
I relish every eatable that goes with the festivities because I have sweet ‘teeth’, not sweet tooth. All my life, I have been a connoisseur and voracious eater of sweets. And like innumerable people the world over, I relish the plum cake the most.
“Aha, what a tempting aroma it has!” I used to silently chant to myself during my younger days as my mouth started watering at the very thought of the delicacy that is prepared essentially on Christmas. The craze remains unabated.
Another of my favourites has been carols, which simply enthral me. Seeing my enthusiasm, Christian friends used to take me to the church. Even if I was unable to join the gathering in singing carols with the perfection of regular Church goers, the soul-stirring music always gave me immense pleasure.
Frankly speaking, not all the carols being intelligible to me, I always utilised the opportunity to pray to seek His blessings. I know no God can be discriminatory and would shower His blessings in the same measure as to others.
We are non-Christians but Christmas as a festival is as dear to our family as Diwali and Holi. So is the case with Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha when we regularly visit Muslim friends’ places to greet them. And they come to our house on Hindu festivals.
I endorse the view of people who say that since their childhood they as well as their forefathers have seen various faiths flourishing on the Indian soil acquiring the Indian flavour. Participation in the celebrations and festivities of other faiths does not affect a person’s identity. Rather it generates bonhomie and closer relations in the society.
It is heartening that Christmas has today spread its wings wide in metros and other cities. People of other faiths enthusiastically join the festivities in a big way. It is not that non-Christians go to the church but many of them decorate their office premises, shops and even the exterior of their houses with coloured lights and buntings and other decorative material. Since it is extremely cold at this time of the year in northern India, many people join the Christmas bonfire and sing. It is the perfect thing to do to get families together and enjoy.
This growing appeal of Christmas in even conservative societies in India is because the keenly awaited festival is all about mirth and lot of dining and merry-making at this time of the year. While hotels and restaurants go for a truly glittering look, most big supermarkets and malls undergo a massive marketing-oriented makeover. I saw the spirit of Christmas in all-pervading ways with people from all faiths thronging them.
But of late, like any other festival, Christmas also provides a big market in which kids play a big role. For them no person other than Santa Claus can be important because he brings them cherished gifts.
The other day, I overheard a non-Christian mother chiding her naughty young son in an unusual way. As she shopped in a grocery shop, she threatened to ‘report’ to Santa Claus how badly the boy was behaving and which meant he would get few gifts less this Christmas. The boy froze, literally. The very thought of losing out on his favourite games and toys because of a negative feedback in his ‘annual behaviour report card’ made him mend his ways immediately. I could not help smile at the mother’s marvellous technique to contain the boy’s mischief.
For almost a fortnight, the spirit of Christmas prevails all over with restaurants and bakeries serving rich, indulgent and celebratory dishes connected to the festival. Several restaurants and chefs try to put together their own family recipes to make the fare more authentic and closer home. The recipes are lent local flavours and spices.
But to be honest, what gujiya is for Holi and sewayiin for Eid, plum cake is for Christmas. Its appeal transcends religion and is one of the dishes that the British left as a parting gift for us Indians. Interestingly, in view of the off-the-season spurt in its demand, some bakeries have now started preparing it even in other months of the year.
Tradition has it that a platter of festive sweets and nibbles is sent and offered to relatives, neighbours and friends. However, with women leading a busy and hectic lifestyle, most of these goodies are now ordered and not made at home. But what binds homes across India is the fact that the entire nation has made the festival its own with a stamp of ‘Indian-ness’.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.