Christmas is possibly the most exciting time of the year in every Christian household. It’s that time of the year when homes are magically transformed into havens of joy with ornate pelmets and cheerful Christmas trees adorning living rooms, fantastic festive fare rustled up by one and all and a spirited social calendar that reunites families and friends from across the world. A distinct set of experiences envelop the festival, weaving generations together with traditions that are as old as time.
As we dance into December and the season of Christmas, My Kolkata recalls some of the best memories that the festival bestows upon us, year after year. So, grab those kalkals and come on this nostalgia-ridden journey with us.
Christmas carols: Michael Buble or Meghan Trainor?
Usually, fighting off a deep slumber on a nippy December morning is painstakingly annoying, but climbing out of bed on the first day of Christmas month is as exciting as ever. On this day, you wake up to the tunes of cheerful Christmas carols laced with nostalgia, reminding you that the happiest month of the year is here.
The fathers of the house have full control over the music. Only and only because the generations that thrive on Ed Sheeran and Meghan Trainor aren’t awake yet. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the debate of choosing the era of Christmas carols that will dominate the fam’s festive playlist inevitably resurfaces. Who sang It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas better: Michael Buble or Meghan Trainor? A frivolous conundrum for those on both sides of the third millennium.
Thankfully, we now have a sliver of common ground with Ed Sheeran and Elton John’s Merry Christmas, a song that has the mothers (read: moderators) of the house, the happiest.
Deck the halls
Deckin’ up our homes for Christmas is a tradition that manifests a maelstrom of happy memories — from adding a star to the top of a beautifully-decorated Christmas tree (usually by the youngest in the family, furry ones included) to picking out matching cushions and curtains, and decorating the corners of the house with bursts of stockings, candy canes and the pelmets with mistletoe.
An essential element of this process? The rickety ladder, one that can well be considered a family heirloom.
Generations have sat atop the very same ladder, sometimes rather unsteadily, but that’s the fun (for bystanders), trying their best to follow the instructions showered upon them for should they steer even slightly, several colourful ‘compliments’ are bound to come their way!
The most significant aspect of a homes’ decoration is the crib — a manger that houses baby Jesus, mother Mary and Joseph, along with shepherds and a pretty little angel. The Magi carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh are lined up outside the crib and are moved a step closer every day by the oldest in the family until the Feast of the Epiphany, which is celebrated on the first Sunday of January when the kings finally meet baby Jesus in the manger.
Pro Tip: Don’t confuse the kings for shepherds, you will not live that down.
Have you been naughty or nice?
We’ve all lived the beautiful lie that is Santa Claus and he comes with truckloads of presents. Come December, children are on their best behaviour for letters to Santa have been posted and will only see the light of day if they’re well-behaved. On Christmas Eve, families lay out a warm glass of milk and a plate of buttery cookies before leaving for midnight mass and returning to a pretty pile of presents under the Christmas tree (and a white moustache on one parent!). Unwrapping a present and guessing who gave it to you is an enthralling experience. However, the best part is picking a gift that depicts exactly how well you know them.
As we grow older, we learn that what the ‘gifting’ really stands for is the ‘season of giving’ and we are encouraged to provide to the needy.
Dancing into December with the cha-cha-cha
The Christmas season is when the Jive and the Cha-cha-cha take centre stage. The tunes of Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock and Wham!’s You’re The One That I Want attract every jaunty couple to the floor – be it at a dance or a wedding. Ladies are seen ripping off their stilettos (in the blink of an eye) while gentlemen roll up their sleeves and loosen their ties, all to compete in a cheerful contest that crowns one couple the ‘Best Jivers’ in the house.
December is also the wedding season. And at any Christian wedding, multiple sessions of Jive and the Cha-cha-cha numbers are mandatory. These are routinely followed with The Birdie Dance, the Wedding March and the Hokey Pokey, which bring the gathering together and foster the festive spirit.
Pudding, pies and can’t-eat-them-now sighs
Christmas brings with it a bevy of festive fare. The most scrumptious? Indisputably, the sweets. Kalkals, marzipan, rose cookies and Christmas cake are baked following recipes that have been carefully passed down from before granny’s time.
Making traditional sweets together means some good ol’ family bonding. The lengthy process ensures that all hands are on deck, including the young and the young-at-heart. The dry fruits (sugared white pumpkin, cherries, raisins and mixed peel) for the Christmas cake are cut to precision, kalkals are shaped perfectly and everyone’s favourites are rustled up well in advance.
It’s all fun and games until you realise that under no circumstance can anything be devoured before Christmas. If you dare question this rule, the only response you’ll receive is an irate ‘Because I said so!’ and what can you say to that, really?
Auld Lang Syne
As the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve, the mellow notes of Auld Lang Syne engulf each home, bidding adieu to the year gone by and welcoming the one to come. ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?.....We'll drink a cup of kindness yet, for the sake of auld lang syne’ are words that foster a heart-warming spirit, leaving everyone misty-eyed.