Celebrating the Yuletide Season
- Sivaram Srikandath
Story Dated: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 16:12 hrs IST
Last week, we put up our Christmas tree at home in what has now become an annual ceremony. The tree has been with us for the past more than fifteen years. It is not very large, just about 5 feet tall; an artificial fir made of plastic, and filled with fiber-optic nodes that twinkle in a riot of colour when switched on. We bought it when our daughter was in school. I remember, she was very excited when we got it home. It used to be her responsibility to put the tree up, draping it with tinsel and adorning it with tiny trinkets and baubles that we, as a family, had collected over the years. And each year, once the tree was taken down, she would carefully wrap the ornaments to be stored away, like stardust to be rediscovered the following year.
Along with putting up the tree, my wife also decorates the house with various knick knacks that welcome the onset of the Christmas season. A wreath of artificial holly, with a cherub smiling innocently, adorns the front door of our home. Decorated candlesticks sit on brightly patterned place mats, adding a splash of colour to the living room, while the dining table is draped with a checked red and green table cloth. Flower vases are filled with mostly, red and green arrangements, and little porcelain figurines of angels and seraphim bedeck tabletops. There is a crystal wind chime that I particularly like, of the Mother Mary and an angel with gold tipped wings, that is hung near the doorway. Each time the door is opened and the breeze wafts in, it produces delicate, tinkling notes that create an ineffable refrain of absolute joy. I also bring out my collection of CDs of Christmas Carols. After all, this is the season to play them, and listen to the wonderful music of peace and goodwill to mankind
Yes, one can definitely feel the Yuletide spirit in the air.
However, as a child, growing up in a typically feudal Nair household in Kerala, I was not aware of the traditions, or rituals, of Christmas. Of course,I knew that it was a major celebration to look forward to. For, come December 25th, our close Christian friends would send us homemade plum cakes and platters of steaming chicken stew and lacy palappams, which we children would be eagerly waiting for. The palappams, made with a dash or two of real toddy, were soft and fluffy, almost fragrant; and would literally melt in our mouths, soaked as it were, in the delicately spiced, sweet coconut milk gravy of the stew. Even today, my taste buds tingle when reliving the memories of those Christmas repasts. But other than this I had not been exposed, either to Christmas trees, or to the traditions and history of the festivities surrounding the birth of the Son of God.
It was only when I went to graduate school in the US that celebrating Christmas became a part of my life as well. Our University would arrange for international students to be invited to local homes to join along in their Christmas festivities. And many local homes would happily host us. Often, we would be a motley group that included Indians, Nigerians, Chinese, Pakistanis and Palestinians. That really did not matter. What was worth cherishing was that while the snow fell gently outside, blanketing the earth in a pristine cover of innocence and purity, we would be inside, sitting around a glowing fireplace, sipping egg nog and singing carols, waiting eagerly for the wonderful Christmas dinner to follow. And at the witching hour of midnight, we would all gather under the Christmas tree, to open the gifts that our hosts would graciously keep for us. And as the festivities continued into the wee hours of the morning, we all became part of one large family sharing the true spirit of Christian fellowship.
Today, I try to relive those memories in my own way, by celebrating Christmas in my own manner, in my own home.
In the evening, when the lights on the Christmas tree begin twinkling, and the candles are lit, there is a warm intimate glow that suffuses the house. Outside, the night is dark, and one can glimpse a few twinkling stars through the canopy of trees that surrounds my house. There is a palpable sense of peace and beatitude, and I am reminded of the fact that it was on a night like this, centuries ago, that a new star rose over the skies of Bethlehem delivering a message of peace and joy to all of mankind.
And I think of my little daughter for whom we first purchased the Christmas tree. She has since finished school, left home, gone on to college; and after graduation began her career as a broadcast journalist in Delhi. She is no longer a little girl. Today, she is married and settled in Mumbai. But the tree has remained with us, reminding us of happy times, and of shared family moments. My daughter has a baby boy now, my grandson Raghav; and I wonder how long it will be before she buys him his Christmas tree, and the little fellow begins to decorate it with his own trinkets and baubles!
Some traditions are certainly worth cherishing, aren't they ?