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Where Are You, Christmas?

Where Are You, Christmas?

December 25, 2010

Old traditions give way to new ones.

Tradition is kinda-sorta important in my family. Although my mother is Catholic, I’ve never attended a Midnight Mass. We’ve never been caroling, or peered into a pot of boiling pudding. But living away from home has forced Joe and I to make our own traditions to keep a sense of family because while we--and Mir--are a family, we’re still somewhat alone.

In Joe’s family, Christmas is a two-day affair. There’s Danish Christmas Eve, with roast pork (and roast nut-meat for us, if we’re home), rice pudding with raspberry sauce, pickled red cabbage, and green beans. The following day, there’s a family lunch at his grandparents’ house, where Granddad plays Santa, handing out dozens of gifts with help from a few elves. It’s fun, easy (if you’re not cooking, that is), and I love it. But I don’t miss it the way I miss our family Christmas.

For my family, Christmas is a season in the true sense of the word: in mid-November, my mother enters Merry Magic Xmas Mode, liberating boxes of ornaments, lights, and statuary from a Christmas storage locker a dozen suburbs away, buying more ornaments, and stocking up on all the small necessities of hosting friends and family. Come December, my dad sets up a Christmas village and train set, and puts up the (artificial) tree. When I lived at home, we’d spend hours detangling lights, stringing tinsel, hanging glass balls, and oohing and aahhing over baubles we’d grown up with.

In between the Christmas house prep, we’d shop. Shop, shop, shop--my parents are generous souls, and everyone gets a gift, butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. But what I truly remember--and miss--is the way my father’s love of Christmas has grown.

My father is an Indian Muslim, from Lautoka, on Nadi, in Fiji. He grew up with the Muslim festivals of Eid; although he was aware of Christmas, he didn’t celebrate it. As a child, I remember him singing non-religious carols and helping with the tree; as a teen, I remember him drinking virgin eggnog and getting just as jingle-happy as my mum, albeit in a more gentle, less exuberant way.

What is it about Christmas that transcends religious barriers? Is it simply that Jesus is a prophet in Islam, so celebrating his birth isn’t quite a heathen practice? Is it the peace, love, goodwill message that everyone from The Beatles to President Obama touts? Or is it that we, as people, simply enjoy an excuse to party?

I’m not a party fiend--I’m more the stay-at-home bookish type, like Joe, and, most-likely, Mir. But Christmas parties do appeal, and partially because of the hippy-ness of the season. It’s hard to fight at a Christmas party, to be angry when surrounded by twinkle lights and gifted handmade sweaters and gourmet chocolates.

This year, Mir, Joe, and I, are spending a snow-spattered Christmas in Cambridge, away from Merry Magic Xmas Mode. We cooked our Danish Christmas Eve dinner last night and watched Love Actually and It’s a Wonderful Life; today we began with cranberry muffins, panettone French toast, and fresh fruit before attacking Mir’s grandparent fueled gift-pile. I miss the train set and the tree, but we’re creating new Christmas traditions, too--decorating our own ornaments, painting our initials for above the (handmade by me) stockings, stringing paper chains and dancing to Alvin and the Chipmunks and Muppets Christmas carols. It isn’t perfect, but it’s ours, and so far, I love it.


  • eM
    01.06.11 05:04 PM
    I love festivals! And I'm not Christian but every year in sweltering Mumbai heat, I labour over a roast, Yule log and Christmas cake, and put up a little tree with presents. I love presents!
  • Alfred Jones
    Alfred Jones
    31.12.10 12:11 AM
    Thank you for sharing your family's Christmas traditions with the rest of us. It calls to mind similar Christmas traditions in my family - and the importance of celebrating something, anything, with family.

    My family's Christmas traditions were very Indianized/Hinduized adaptations. I'd have new clothes "stitched" for the occasion. They'd be home made sweets and other Indian small eats that I'd walk around and distribute to other (non-observing) families in our neighbourhood. And we'd have friends over for a party where we served very typical South Indian "tiffin" snacks as part of the Christmas menu. The sound of general bustle around the house, laughter and "chit chat" in Kannada and English, rustling Mysore silk sarees and the scent of jasmine flowers adorning the womens' hair were all part of my family's Christmas tradition. Sigh.


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