My Christmas meaning1:45 PM
Festivals from around the world are as deeply rooted in ones culture as they are in religion, if not more. If you just look at Christmas, you won't find two nations with the same sets of traditions, stories, beliefs, and food. Often, each families have their very own interpretation of cultural traditions that shall be passed down generation and shall not be altered in anyway.
I myself have become even more aware of that fact since moving to India, and heaven knows I did struggle to get it to feel familiar. This is in time of festivities that expats of any cultural background is bound to feel homesick. Give me one expat that hasn't struggled even a little with homesickness during holidays, and I'll show you a liar. This is how it is.
I have had a lot of people ask me if I go to Church on Christmas Eve since I moved to India. They usually are a bit puzzled by my resonant "No" to that question. Because it seems that one has to be Christian to celebrate Christmas, yet I don't consider myself so. I was born in a Christian family, in a Christian culture country, but I am not a believer. Nobody in my family really ever was to be fair.
You see, in most of Europe, traditions such as the Christmas tree, Santa, the Yule log, and lighting of candles are far far older than Christianity, all these were elements of the pagan Winter solstice festival. Our age old mythology just got merged with Christian tales over time to form what is known as Christmas today. This the reason why the holiday is so strongly associated with snow, pine trees and flying reindeers when in fact Jesus was a Middle Eastern guy who grew up in a part of the world that had more sand than greenery, and not even the shadow of a snowman. But to convert Europeans, one had to relate to them.
Yes, many European, myself included do celebrate the holiday in a very secular way. In my family, it has always been a time to celebrate our loved ones, and bond in what is otherwise a cold, gloomy and dark month...the darkest of the year. In Switzerland it is dark from around 5pm until 8am the next morning, and you get lucky if you see the sun at all behind the thick nearly constant cover of cloud. Northern Europe has even less daylight, with areas closer to the North Pole barely seeing any light at all. This kind of environment shapes people, and their culture, this is how deep rooted it can get, no matter what you call it.
When I arrived to India, the difference between the Summer solstice and the Winter one suddenly seemed to have vanished altogether. The climate was different, the seasons too, it was hard to figure out how to make Christmas work in that setting.
But I made it work, simply because I want my daughter to know that half of her heritage lies in a country that sees harsh Winters and dark nights, that half of her is part of a different set of stories, traditions, and culture. A place were we believe in finding beauty in an evergreen tree when all the others seemed to have died. A place where kids are told about a magical entity that will give them goodies in what would otherwise be the darkest time of the year, a symbol that there is good in every situation. But more than everything, that there is more than ONE story on the theme of light vs darkness. That there is more than one way to celebrate family, that there is more than one culture in this world. We celebrate light, family and prosperity with Diwali first, then two month later, we celebrate, light, joy, family and Winter with Christmas.
This is how most interfaith and intercultural families roll. In the "masala" community I belong to, we all have no problem mixing two cultures, and creating a fusion the rest of the year. BUT when it comes to holidays...ANY holidays celebrated by one or both parties, we stick to the classics and do not deviate from the traditions.
For me, like many other masala couples, that means there is absolutelty NO Indian elements in my Christmas menu and munchies. Likewise there is absolutely NO continental anything on the menu for Diwali, or any Western traditions for that matter. My friend Tina explained it quite well on her blog.
This might seem very odd to anybody not being in an intercultural relationship, but this is the kind of very essential balance we need to find.
For many of us, we have absolutely no ambitions whatsoever to shed our own culture, or ask our partner to do the same. I myself always will be from Switzerland, and my husband will always be from India, regardless of what passport we could possibly hold in our future, or where we could possibly live. He has absolutely no desire to shed his Indian culture, I have no desire to snip my own roots. And when it comes to the few festivals we observe, DH is the master of ceremony for Diwali, and I am the master of ceremony for Christmas.
So to paraphrase my friend again, there will be no Paneer at my Christmas table, or dal, or chapati, or masala anything. Christmas came to mean the celebration of my roots on top of celebrating the season and my loved ones.
Read more stories from ladies in intercultural relationship regarding Chrismas:
My Masala Life: We do not eat Paneer on Christmas or Turkey on Diwali: Things we do not Mix
American Punjaban PI: Christmas in My Intercultural Family
Attached moms: My Christmas in India: Blended American traditions, found