Christmas

Thinking about Christmas

6:08 PM

This is a dilemma we Western culture people think about a lot, wether we are in India, or in our homeland and before you judge it, let me tell you, it is a valid one:

When is it ok to start planning for Christmas? 

If you come from a culture where Christmas is no prevalent, or even absent, or is just considered a new fad you are probably snorting, rolling your eyes and thought a few insults, or silently expressed a bit of sarcasm toward those who actually really care about this festival be it in its Christian avatar, pagan, or secular/cultural way. 

Go ahead, have your little laugh, right now, while you can. Then once you are done, I am going to ask you to pick up the one big massive festival that is key in your own culture. 
How long in advance do you think about it? No really, how much time does it take you to plan the decor, parties, guests, foods, gifts? 

Chances are you are starting to think about it weeks in advance. 

I know we do for both Diwali and Christmas. If we happen to head to my in-laws for the festival of lights (which we didn't this year) we often start thinking about the dates months in advance in order to check how much the flight tickets will cost us. Then comes the gifts, and who gets what and in what budget. 
If we stay home, like we did this year, there is always this anticipation as to when we can start putting the lights up on the balcony, or what insane amount of cleaning is looming over us. 

But back to Christmas shall we? 

If you haven't grown in a culture that TRUELY celebrates it as part of its heritage, chances are you think it is all just about putting a tree up, sharing foods and gifts on the 25th and be done with it. 
Well it's pretty much what Christmas is in a nutshell anyway.

Except that no matter which form of it you choose to celebrate it is not going to be that simple. 

You see, Christmas has been both a Christian and a Pagan festival for centuries. One celebrating the birth of the saviour and son of God, or the Winter solstice and the progressive return of light and brighter days. 
I'll let you free to figure out which version of the festival you want to associate yourself to, I made myself very clear of where I stand on that matter in the past.

For a starter, no matter what you belief is, Christmas is a month long festival...no ifs no buts no nothing. The Christians refer to this period as the Advent which means the 4 Sundays BEFORE Christmas. 
This year this First Advent will fall on November 27th, as you can see it falls almost a month before the actual Christmas day.
Advent is a latin word that translates into "coming" and for Christians it is a period of preparation and anticipation that leads to the main event on December 25th. Super religious people will go to Church every Sunday to the Advent service or mass, re-read the bible at home, and start decorating their home gradually. 
The early Christians probably didn't invent this tradition, it is likely that the Advent grafted itself on the Winter Solstice festival preparation that were probably around a month long thing. 

The core idea of this festival is to celebrate family ties, warmth, the return of light, love, joy...you get it, and this is something you build gradually overtime, it's a festival the depends on a great amount of momentum.

So, really when do you really need to start thinking about Christmas?

With all of that above, let me assure you that people starting to talk about decorations, holiday recipes in November is not that crazy. And yes, I am finding myself planning things as of now. 

Be it the Advent Calendar, or when to start making my batches of Zimtsterne or Milano cookie dough for the freezer (and not loose my mind in December). Or when to plan a Holiday themed craft session with my friends (very important way to bring the festival alive for expats in India).

As a blogger, it is even more important to start that process early, as no Christmas celebrating souls will want to see all of the craft projects and recipe popping out a week or two before Christmas. 
If you live in Europe and US chances is that by the time December rolls in you are going to already be booked solid the whole month in a whirlwind of parties, events, recitals, gathering and shopping trips. 
I first noticed how essential it was to actually make time to truly appreciate the Holiday when it actually came last year. 

My answer to the vital question about when to starting thinking about Christmas is : 

As early as you need to in order to feel happy and non-stressed in December. 

For me, with my blog, my friends and life in general, this means NOW. Don't be surprised if from now on a lot of my blog posts will give you a glimpse of chocolate, cinnamon, red white and green and jingle bells. 
The Advent is coming, the social gatherings are going to start lining up, and like a good wine, the "Expat in India" version of my holiday gets better and better with each passing years.


8 comments

  1. I used to dread the frenzied insanity around Xmas in the US.
    After Black Friday I would not even dare to go to a mall or dept store- I'd do ALL my shopping online. Baking the lebkuchen & pfeffernussen now as they taste better when aged.

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    1. I was the same in Switzerland. My shopping was done and over with by November end because December is total madness.

      Christmas cookies and cakes all taste better aged, I think it is because of the dried fruits and spices that take time to infuse the dough.
      A few 5 stars hotels in Mumbai advertise their cake mixing ceremony event which takes place in October most of the time, this is because it truely takes over a month for the liquor to seep into the fruits nuts and bring the whole flavour together.

      My Swiss cookies recipe all benefits greatly if I let the dough rest a minimum of a day before using it, the almonds flour has the time to absorb all the moisture from the eggs and Kirsch.

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    2. Anonymous4:16 PM

      I am eagerly waiting for your Avent calendar. I also understand that it would a very hectic month for you till Christmas. Growing up Christmas, was an important festival, though we did not celebrate it. There is something auspicious and warm about the festival which cannot be explained, may be it is something divine.

      About festivals and its preparations, our major festival is Durga Pooja, and since it is a public celebration, so no preparations are needed at individual level for it. A shopping trip to Karol Bagh or Sarojini Nagar, fifteen days ago, to buy clothes for near and dear ones is sufficient. The rush is more around diwali in markets and less in Dusseshra. The only thing exhausting is zipping from one venue to another during those days.

      Same for Diwali, important but not a major festival. Cleaning the house is not mandatory. Our Laxmi Pooja takes places a few days after Dussera. On Diwali night is Kali Pooja, which is again a public celebration.

      So, I guess we are lucky that no major preparations are required during festivals.


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    3. I think the reason there is no major preparation for Durga Puja and Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai is that the most intricate part of the festival is the idol itself and it is outsourced.
      There is no need to think about how to carve and decorate Durga or Ganpati, it's done by others. And as you said, Durga Puja is a public celebration, people just have to show up at a Mandal ground.

      Christmas while nowadays being VERY commercial it is still a festival of doing things as a family in preparation for the big day while people will buy the tree and basic ornaments, the task to put it up is still a big event that involve the entire family, along with Christmas carols (played on the music system in my family) and some Christmas snacks as we go.

      There is also a certain tradition about Christmas ornaments that tells the family's story, be it the brass trumpets inherited from a great grand parent, or the one bought at a Christmas market the on a weekend getaway, or the ones your kids made in school. To a stranger they are a bunch of ornament, to the family they are heirlooms that bring back memories.
      Displaying them early in the Christmas season means more chances to look at them and remember those moments and feel blessed and grateful.

      I think what makes Christmas special beyond religion is that it pretty much celebrate the end of a Calendar year as well, it's that one month to wave goodbye to the year that passed before welcoming in the new. The last chance for the year to celebrate family and friends in a very special way before the cycle repeats all over.
      It's beautiful and happy feeling.

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    4. Anonymous10:16 AM

      Going by your description, I am tempted to be part of a Christmas celebration. May be one day, I might get the privilege.

      It is true, that in a public celebrations there is no need for individual preparations, but Ganesh Chaturthi is both public and private function. When it is private celebration, there is a hell of a lot of preparation. It is not a big festival in Delhi, but I got the chance of participating in Ganesh Pooja at a Marathi household. It was quiet an elaborate arrangement. They kept the idol for three days, some keep it for ten days, which means carrying on the same routine every day. I guess, when God almighty is your guest, you have to be careful.

      I admire the dedication of Marathi folks and it was lot of fun too. They sang bhajans in a rhythmic manner, building into a crescendo.

      BTW, have you received my e mail?

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    5. Yes I have received your email, sorry I didn't get the time to reply to it, found myself quite busy. I loved your pictures, that Durga Puja setting was stunning.

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  2. Anonymous1:45 AM

    I love Christmas, too. Not really the gifts or the shopping, but I like decorating for the season and the childhood memories. I miss the snow! Here in S Florida, I find it hard to get in the spirit when it's so hot! Hopefully we'll have a cold snap in late December.
    Susan

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    1. We rarely got snow in December in Geneva, so I never really associated it with Christmas. It was cold, gloomy and wet around that time of the year.

      For me, what was hard in India, and is thankfully less hard with each passing year, is the fact that for the longest time I was pretty much the only one really understanding what my traditions about the holiday meant. Or rather having people really understand that Christmas is pretty much about getting together as family and friend and have special food and do Christmas themed stuff the entire month.

      Now with a great circle of friends who are all foreign ladies married to Indians and all miss the same type of things, we can re-create that missing bit a little.
      It's something really hard to explain I guess.

      I did a blog post about it 2 years ago : http://www.homecynhome.com/2014/12/the-elusive-xmas-factor.html

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