Archive for December, 2005

Christmas In Bangalore

Posted: December 24, 2005 in Bangalore, Travel
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I found myself going back to an article I had written awhile ago for IndiaInfo…

The Global Celebration
Come December, and the nipping bite of winter enters the air. Then, as one scrambles from the chilly blackness of the night into the warmth of a well-lit living room with a cotton-covered Christmas tree, the tang of home-made wine and the smell of rose cookies…with Bing Crosby reminiscing of another “White Christmas”…you know that the Yuletide season is here.

Christmas in India is a secular celebration, with touches of the British tradition, but hearkening back to a deeper Jewish origin, that struck roots with the coming of Christendom.

Today, everybody celebrates Christmas. While it may be argued that in this secularisation of Christmas, the Yuletide season has lost its original message, it is also true that Christmas is perhaps the only festival that joins the nations of the globe in a celebration of life.

Christmas for Christians marks the birth of Jesus the Son of God, the long-promised Messiah of the Jews. Of course, as with most celebrations that have their wellsprings in the divine, there is uncertainty about whether Christmas should really be celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December.

The early disciples of Jesus did not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is said that the celebration was a creation of the Roman Emperor Constantine as he tried to induct his people who were worshippers of the Babylonian and Roman Gods, into the more recent Christian faith. Pagan rituals and Gods were given Christian names. Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, replaced the Sun God Sol Ivictus. Christmas replaced the “Victory of the Sun God” Festival and the Festival of Saturn (Saturnalia) of the Mithras. December twenty-fifth was also a significant date in the ancient world, as to all religions, this date marked the birthday of the Gods. It was the time of the year when the days began to lengthen and it symbolised the regeneration of nature.

It should come as no surprise then, that the more austere Protestants were opposed to the idea of celebrating Christmas. The Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Calvinists brought this spirit with them to America. In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts even enacted a law outlawing the observance of December 25. Hanging decorations was punishable by a fine. But, this changed with the coming of the first Germans settlers, for whom the Christbaum or the Christ tree was a firmly established tradition. In England, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, further established the tradition when he decorated the first Christmas tree in 1841.

Since then, Yuletide celebrations have been carried across the globe, with different nations weaving in their myths and traditions to make this the child of humankind’s collective imagination. A resonance of this vibrating beat rises from the Indian shores every December. Celebrations have spilled over even to some Hindu homes to envelop the nation.

Weeks before Christmas, families rummage into trunks for decorations that have been carefully stashed away. Out come the familiar angels, the bells, the baubles and the silver tinsel. The family Christmas tree, that is Germany’s contribution to the Christmas tradition, regains its place of pride. Cotton takes the place of snow in the hot tropics. The decorations are slipped on and high-tech twentieth century electric lights provide the finishing touches, replacing the candles that Martin Luther once lit for his family, to recreate the brilliance of the spectacle of a night where the stars twinkle amidst the evergreens.

The birth of Jesus Christ is played out again every year, as families set up their own cribs. There, in that age-old re-enactment, set out for display, are the infant Jesus, his mother Mary, his father Joseph, the shepherds who watched their sheep that night, and the Three Kings who travelled from the East to pay their respects to the new born king.

The Christmas star that hearkens back to the Star of the East that led the Three Kings to the Christ child reigns over many doors. Mistletoe that had mystical properties in the Celtic, Druid, Norse traditions and represents the Tree of Life in the Christian tradition also finds it’s way into Indian homes. Accompanying it, is another symbol of eternal life, the British ivy, that also has associations with Bacchus, the God of Wine and Revelry.

Wine that has been fermenting through the year finds its way out of the cellar. Households are enveloped with the smell of freshly baked goodies. And in a confluence of the east and the west, plum cakes, rose cookies (achapams) and kal kals – all find their way to the Indian table.

The festive spirit brims over into the streets. Santa Claus, the American version of St Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Giving, also finds his way into brightly lit and well-decorated Christmas stores. Strains of music orchestrate the celebration as Church choirs and carol singers also raise their voices to a crescendo.

Greeting cards, that first had their origin in Britain, also surface in Indian stores. Like elsewhere around the world, Christmas becomes a time to show people you love that you care.

On Christmas Eve, most Christian families attend a midnight service. They return home in the early hours of the morning to a cup of wine perhaps, and the excitement of mysteriously wrapped presents around the Christmas tree. Turkey and duck are traditionally a part of the next day’s menu, a day that is meant to be spent with the family.

The festive spirit lingers on for the next few weeks, gradually fading away into the first week of the New Year. Christmas decorations are then unwillingly pulled down and stashed away…for another December…another putting together of the crib…another visit from Santa Claus…another Christmas.