Newspaper reports say that people spend more than 12 days preparing for Christmas. I’m sure around the same number of days applies to most other festivals — and in a country like India, where there are festivals practically every month, sometimes two, that could take care of almost the entire year!
Luckily, our family paid major attention only to Christmas, but our preparations went way beyond just 12 days. Obviously, the primary focus was on food and when we were young and there were many hands on deck, it was possible to start the groundwork about a fortnight in advance.
As the years passed, however, and the captain of our domestic ship grew older and slower, preparations began earlier and earlier, somewhere around the end of November. While every other form of work in our house was evaded whenever we could get away with it, we never avoided the chopping and mixing that went into Christmas preparations. In fact, once the groundwork was done, we often fought over the right to be placed nearest the stove: not because the spirit of goodwill had reformed our selfish little hearts, but because that position gave us first dibs on the mouth watering goodies that emerged from the enormous pans.
We did not mind occasional splashes of hot oil or the cramping of fingers as we flattened and rolled the traditional ‘kul kuls’ on our forks as Mother fried — and we could pinpoint the ones made by each member of the family because each had their own style. Father’s were evenly large with a lot of body — like him. Big brother’s were squarish and not so many in number because he was generally called out by his friends for something more interesting to do while we were still half-way through the mound of dough. Mother’s and sister’s were meticulously rolled and always neat. And mine were misshaped and uneven and didn’t last long in the tray because “this one is twisted”, “those are too large”, “these are too small” — all reasons to gobble them up as they were made.
The preparatory stage for Christmas always saw a gain of a couple of kilos — thanks to the ‘sorting out’ of presentable and not-so-presentable goodies. Someone was usually on hand to find fault with textures, fillings, or frosting — and quick to pop the offending item into their mouths! “Can’t offer that to our neighbours and friends”, we would say piously — and neither of the adults would protest. They knew our strategy — and had probably practised it themselves in their time.
Christmas was also the festival that did not see any ‘portion’ (“He/she has more than I have”) fights among the siblings. There was plenty to go around and every taste was catered to. So there was stuffed chicken or turkey for the ones to whom protein intake mattered, there were fruit fillings for those who did not have much of a sweet tooth, there were tiny vol-au-vents for those who appreciated good cuisine but really needed to fit into that dress for the Christmas dance.
While the food section of Christmas took up the major portion of our time and energy and interest, there were other things to build up the excitement as well. Decorations and lights, stockings to be filled, secret gifts to be bought or made.
Everyone was hiding something at this time of the year and the suspense grew over the weeks until the grand opening on Christmas morning amid noisy comments, laughter and, yes, carols playing somewhere in the background.
Then — and now — 12 days seem too short a time to pack in so much enjoyment and all that heightened anticipation!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.