Merry Christmas??

My 35th Christmas. Every year, it is the Christmas season I love the most. Right from my childhood, it has always been the best part of the year.

When I was a child, I lived in a place where we had a whole lot of Christian neighbours. Decembers were cold and the pale glow of stars that adorned their houses radiated warmth. Back then, the shops didn’t sell extravagant and sophisticated stars. They were simple and sober, and their light was just enough to dispel the darkness of cold nights and the darkness in any lonely soul’s heart. They were a comforting sight and I would look out through my window late into the night, drawing warmth and happiness from the sight of these stars, wishing I could have a star for myself. But as a child, I was too scared to ask my parents if I could put up a star too. Only Christians put them up, didn’t they? Oh, why was I not born a Christian? I was absolutely miserable about this fact the whole Christmas season. And so, I had to be content gazing at those stars from my window, dreaming of owning one some day.

Christmas carols and music filled the air. The carol party always had many familiar faces and I loved their visits to our homes. Someone would be dressed up as Santa, and I always felt this Santa did not somehow look quite as nice as the Santa I had seen in my story books. The thing about Christmas was that it cut through the loneliness of winter and made winter come alive. With the festivities, decors, stars, carols and parties, the night felt youthful. The entire city seemed to retire to bed very late, and it made the streets feel safer and merrier. More importantly, we children seemed to have a little more freedom….a little more time outdoors! Parents seemed to loosen up as half-yearly exams came to a close and the school closed for Christmas vacation. The most striking memory is of how safe it was, back in those days. None of our parents worried about our safety as parents do today. Also, the barriers between neighbours were not as palpable as they are now, especially when it came to us children. I think I spent more time outdoors and at my neighbours’ houses than I did at my home. Closed doors were a rare sight in a household that had children. So many faces come into memory. I remember most of my neighbours as people very fond of children. They welcomed us, spoke to us in a language of affection that is still fresh in my mind, showered us with homemade delicacies. I always loved cakes. And as it is with most things, I doted on those simple homemade cakes which I label as ‘exotic’ today. By the end of Christmas, we had tasted every variety of homemade cake. Sometimes, we also bought those goodies that were exclusive to the Christmas season. Christmas in those days, was a season when it was impossible to feel lonely. Everybody came out of their homes and reached out to each other.

When i was older, i remember staying in a house that overlooked the backyard of a church. By then, Christmas too had evolved. There were more parties surrounding Christmas. There was a huge ground adjacent to where we lived. It would be transformed into a party area in December. Every evening, there were games and contests. Many people gathered and from our terrace, we could watch all of it. They would also have an orchestra and occasional dance parties. From the church, music filled our house. They had bonfire parties in the backyard and we watched it all from our terrace. I loved the sound of the guitar strings as they kept me company during the night.

The Christmas season was also the most romantic. We would get to see pretty young girls dress up in beautiful frocks and skirts and attend mass or go for parties. And there were smart, handsome young boys trying to woo them. I had my favourites when it came to pairs. And I wanted to grow up fast and meet someone interesting and cute…someone who could play a guitar….someone who would look at me the way these guys looked at those beautiful girls. I wondered if it was possible to have a Christian boyfriend.

Christmas was different when I finally grew up and we were in college. I remember this one time they were inaugurating the Allen Solly store at Safina Plaza. I had gone shopping with dad, and as we walked towards Safina Plaza, this lady walked up to me and asked me a question. My dad answered and I repeated, all smiles. She gifted me an Allen Solly voucher, and said- ‘For the striking smile on your face’. I remember blushing as the whole crowd looked at me. I never used the voucher, I preserved it in my diary. That Christmas, I loved the decors on Commercial Street, the Christmas decors we bought and everything about Christmas. Mom was visiting her sister, so it was just me and dad.

Towards the end of college, my life had turned into a perpetual Christmas. It was full with people, their love, laughter and the outdoors.

Christmas took a turn when I moved abroad. The decors were unimaginably beautiful. Sales were everywhere and we shopped big time. We bought gifts by the dozen and it was important to thank everyone for being a part of your life. I loved to think of what each of my friends might really like for a Christmas gift, and I loved wrapping up the gifts, personalizing cards and surprising people. It was party-time…at work and otherwise.

Following my move to Kerala, Christmas became a memory. And yet, it remains the most beautiful part of the year, thanks to the evergreen memory.

This Christmas, I was surprised to see how many souls expressed feelings of loneliness and depression. I was surprised to see people very much alive on virtual platforms, trying to derive some solace there. A good many people were deriving companionship from their television screens. There seemed to be no scarcity of stars in the neighbourhood. Non-Christian houses had them too. The stars today are extravagant and sophisticated, some too bright and blinding. They radiate no warmth; they themselves appear lonely. Loneliness is the most deadly disease that is gradually gnawing into our lives. I do not know if it is possible to rid us of this dreadful disease…to prevent it from afflicting us. As we zealously wish each other ‘Merry Christmas’ on social networking sites, I wonder how merry it really is!

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