In the Spirit of Christmas

Collecting little trinkets to decorate the small tree we would keep at home marked the onset of Christmas every year. The yearly ritual of celebrating Christmas in our little way meant being invited by my Catholic friend to her home, looking forward to Malayali delicacies and a sumptous rum cake made by her mother, picking the choicest Christmas gift for her and playing in the sun at her rooftop with aunty making sure we were having enough fun.

While this was what the day of Christmas looked like, studying in a Convent school made Christmas feel like an elaborate affair with students competing to join the carol choir and partaking in the happiness of the festivities which were generously hosted by the school. Carol singing practices would begin a week before the celebration day, Bible reading rehearsals would start in full sway and the nativity play preparations would take up most of our days.

The other day, a neighbour and friend was going to school for carol singing and a whiff of nostalgia hit me when she told me how excited she was for the prayer service.

Several years have passed since school has been over. And the many meanings of Christmas have also changed or I would say evolved with the passage of time. The ritualistic attraction of the festival still sets the Christmas mood and the heart wants to sing along on hearing the rhythms of carols, however, I wonder what has been so special about Christmas over the past few years.

A raging pandemic took a toll on loved ones with the closest and dearest ones haplessly trying to hold onto hope amidst death and despair. With the lockdown rendering several homes without a morsel of food, the abundance that Christmas promises has been seeming to be a figment of imagintion. When on one hand, we believe Christmas to be bringing with itself holidays full of mirth, warmth and friends, there have been so many who have been struggling with a debilitating mental health, feeling alone, ridden with pathos and hoping to survive. That which always looks like a merry affair, also has a side which is discomforting to look at, and not so happy after all.

With a work from home arrangement going on in several organisations all over the world, the in-office Christmas cheer, before the organisation would shut for the festival and new year, has also receded into the background. So Christmas over the last few years has been about imagining what it would have been like if we were all in office, on the cusp of bidding goodbye to the passing year, taking new resolutions for the forthcoming one and reflecting together on the bygone days. But since that has not been the case for a while now, Christmas from home, if I may call it that, is about thinking of that one free day of staying in the blanket throughout the morning, wishing colleagues on whtasapp groups and simply being thankful for a day of holiday.

Christmas at home is and has also been about redefining familial ties. When other Christmases meant going back home and joining in the fervour to finally return to work, Christmas at home for the past years has seen readjustment of family bonds, making up after periods of turmoil, doing something as mundane as sipping tea, together, being there for each other in the highs and lows, caring for each other even on days it seemed difficult to do that, staying put after several thoughts of leaving and ultimately being grateful for the people we call family.

The past Christmases have seen loss, tears, regrets and defeats only to make one realise that each new Christmas brings with itself a glimmer that makes us want to look past those sorrows and move ahead.

So even though, aunty is not with my friend anymore this year, this Christmas is about all the strength she has held in herself and it is a celebration of that spirit of Christmas that all of us have kept alive in ourselves. Here is to the joy of being, here is to a merry Christmas!

Malvika Sharad is an editorial assistant at the Economic and Political Weekly.