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Merry Christmas Mr Patel

Merry Christmas Mr Patel

December 23, 2010

Christmas is around the corner, but what does the festival mean to the modern NRI?

As we hurtle towards Christmas and the end of the year, all of my best intentions regarding budgets, calories and general winter habits spiral out of control. I tell myself there’s not much point worrying, as I’ll somehow be able to restore order from chaos in January along with the rest of the world. This seems to be the time when we’re bombarded with images of health and rejuvenation, so goals seem easier to achieve. I agree that it is important to have a good time now, but that we should also keep tabs on the resolutions we made last year. Why aren’t we keeping them any more – and exactly what sort of mischief will take place over the party season?

When I think about this question in detail, I wonder what the NRI attitude to Christmas is exactly. Growing up in England, I’ve absolutely loved the idea of Christmas, of course we were educated about all religions and through the cultural socialization we received, Christmas became an inherent part of our culture. Schools respectively realize that not everyone is Christian and therefore the birth of Christ isn’t really the over arching message behind the festival. Instead, you’ll find that it’s usually the fun and festivity that are celebrated. For different people, this will mean different things. For us, it was all about the films on television, the special lunches and of course the presents. My parents hadn’t actually celebrated Christmas with us until were about four or five years old. Up until then, we hadn’t realized what it was, and they’d always thought of it as a festival for children, so hadn’t bothered.

A lot of what changed over the years was down to how we were growing up and reacting to the things around us. One Christmas, my parents had been out with some colleagues, who it seemed took Christmas quite seriously. They realized they hadn’t actually got us anything. They didn’t even know they were supposed to be celebrating up until this point. What proceeded was a frantic chase around the shops just to get us some decent presents which they couldn’t really afford at the time. It was incredibly moving, more so because I can’t actually remember that particular Christmas. The experience remains rose-tinted in their eyes, and it’s that level of concern and effort that we aim to recreate.

In the subsequent years, there have been similar struggles with Christmas trees, limited edition CDs, musical instruments and DVD box sets, although we still manage to have a good time despite the commercial drive. Part of the pleasure is having an unconventional dinner. We simply have one rule, which is to create an exceptional meal; so when you consider this needn’t involve a turkey – it makes things considerably easier. Being predominantly vegetarian, we’ve come to specialize in creating various blends of stuffing which are subsequently turned into an assortment of loaves and burgers. As far as Christmas for various NRIs has probably been a variation on the theme above – but it would be interesting to know what others do.

I often hear stories about Canadians having an intense winter for example, which leads me to believe that the NRI community there is likely to embrace the winter festival. From other sources. In America, one would assume that it’s definitely a bigger deal, but I haven’t read any official studies on NRIs and their relationship to festive holidays just yet. Ultimately, a NRIs attitude to Christmas will probably be a reflection of their respective cultural environment. I’m confident in the knowledge that those of us who embrace it, do so with an acknowledgement of its communal and charitable principles – and not because we’ve been indoctrinated by a Christian ideology. How far you’d like to go is entirely up to you. I draw the line at Christmas Pudding, however, I can’t deny that being able to press pause on the world is the best thing about the holidays.


  • Sandeep
    30.12.10 03:50 PM
    Hello Chandrima,

    It's great when you can involve children and see it through their eyes. People are very quick in becoming cynical about such things, so it's great when Christmas is just accepted for what it is. I hope you had a good time. I enjoyed your article too.
  • Chandrima Pal
    Chandrima Pal
    24.12.10 10:40 AM
    Very nice read, recently I wrote( an article on my blog how we started slowly celebrating Christmas in our family mostly because of our daughter and to give her a festive feeling as she was also missing all the festivities of Indian/Hindu festivals while living in Germany. Yes I think all NRI sooner or later get incorporated into the Christmas rituals in their host countries and with years this become their own family tradition.

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