I’m not the only one

1:29 PM

This Sunday I was busy dealing with hyper and distraught daughter and trying to get household stuff done as out maid has been on leave for a week, that i didn’t get to sit down with the Sunday magazine called HT Brunch that comes with our newspaper. I mentioned it before, but there is one columnist I love to read in there every weekend: Seema Goswami, and as usual she had a witty piece for me to read this Sunday, which I read this Monday morning. It’s all the things she hates about Diwali.
The firecrackers, the commercial aspect, the forced social obligation of visiting as many people you can…these are some of the one she dislikes. As you know I find the crackers beyond annoying, and yes I find the commercial aspect getting more and more ridiculous by the year…and she put it in words very nicely in her article.
I think what irk me the most about the commercial aspect, is that once more it apes the worst behaviour from the West, and we Westerner are blamed for having introduced India to that mass consumerism. Never mind that India had a choice, we are the bad guy. But yes I made parallels between the commercial aspect of Diwali and Christmas.
Believe it or not, minus the crackers and the card games, I hate all the same things she hate about Diwali when it comes to Christmas and then some more. What I have witnessed before leaving for India and through my friends back home and on Facebook, is that the West is correcting some of the madness while India is still blooming into it. Diwali and Christmas share many common thing, first thing first, they are both festivals of welcoming the light after the darkness. Christmas happens in December around the solstice time because the early Christian needed to graft themselves into an existing festival. The Winter solstice is the darkest time of the year, people gather, light candles, feast and pray for the light to come back. Jesus is a symbol of hope to humankind for the Christian as well, he was sent to Earth to save us, at a time where the darkness of the Roman empire was upon the middle East, so the theme of the bearer of promise and light is maintained even in Christianity.
We share time with family, the same way people celebrating Diwali do, we exchange gifts to wish each other a prosperous year to come, and back before it became commercial, gifts were home made, they were useful, they were cherished and precious: oranges, nuts, home knitted sweaters and socks…Meals at that time of the year were rich full of promises of longer days to come, and best enjoyed shared with loved ones, prepared with love. See as I said, similar to Diwali.
Yes it is now commercial as hell, and I remembered loathing hearing Jingle Bells in November knowing that by the time Christmas would arrive I would hate it. I hated the social obligations that went with the holiday season: the annual office dinner, the various club’s annual dinner, the mighty family quarrels about who get to host the Christmas feast, in my family the quarrels were so epic that for the sake of our sanity, we were the one celebrating 3 times, my family was the only one living in Geneva when the relative stronghold was in a neighbouring city about 30 minutes away taking the national highway, so the 23rd was just us at home, the 24th we would pack overnight bags to go to my paternal grand parents to eat dinner there and sleep over, the next morning we would drive down town in the same city to go to my mom’s folks for a Christmas lunch and by the 26th we were too pooped and stuffed to want to do anything. By the 27th we had our ski gear packed to head to a communal chalet for the New Year celebration. After my parent’s divorce it was 4 celebration, because both my mom and dad kept arguing the thing with their own parents, none wanted to come to Geneva, leaving us to do all the travelling again. The one year my parents succeeded getting everybody into our home was the worst, my paternal grand parents complained we were doing it all wrong doing a 25th December Lunch instead of celebrating Christmas eve, my maternal grand ma liked the date and time but complained her daughter was not making the meal she was planning to make, everybody complained about the smoked salmon toasts that was OUR own new little family tradition, because it was too fancy, then there was complaint about the time we lit the tree, the fact we bought gifts for people that wanted none, and then some rushing my mom into tea time because they didn’t want to reach home too late with all the driving…by the time they left my mom was fuming and glad to have them gone and the next year we sucked it up again and did all the travelling and overeating…since it was by far the lesser of two evil.

What was not done into my family was the abundance of gifts, we had some, of course, but starting November my dad would come up with a craft project my sister and I could make each so that every grand parent and relative would get something that was made with heart, I kid you not all of the hand made craft projects we made over the years are still used till date by both my grand ma: cane woven bread basket, painted wooden hanger, wood clad giant match boxes, enamel paint coasters…My sister and I of course put a toy list together, in Switzerland Santa isn’t done, the gifts come from the family, Santa is celebrated as St Nicholas and put dried fruits and nuts into kiddo’s shoes on December 6th. But we would only get one gift, two max from each person, my grand parents would do two, one was from our wish list, the other was a silver spoon or knife or fork to complete our silverware set that would be ours to use by the time we turned 21 (lowered to 18 once the majority age was lowered), this silverware tradition is still practiced to some extent for girls, but less than it used to in my childhood days.
The 80’s was the decade of decadence and when the whole commercial Christmas idea peaked, Christmas back then had to come from a store, the Christmas decoration displays in stores were huge and started in November, real pine trees on the market as soon as we turned to the December page on our calendars and public plazas turned into forests when the pine tree market craze started. The only thing people really still baked for Christmas then was cookies, but with ready made dough from the store.
The 90’s saw an improvement, a small recession hit us, people wanted to keep it simpler, more authentic, decorations were more natural looking, the displays in stores shrank in size, and the German trend of Christmas markets started, with artisans displaying their products: hand made candles, home made organic jams and dips, mulled wine booth, eco friendly Christmas decorations…traditional home made cookies sold in pretty boxes…people went back to celebrating simpler things.
If you ask me it is still overly commercial, and yes stores start putting a show in November still, but compared to the decadence of the 80’s and to an extent the very early 90’s things have mellowed down, department stores are putting less offers and suggestion for gifts, the mail in catalogues are far thinner than I remember them to be as a kid. What’s left is the big meal feast and family feud, but gifting insane and costly items for the occasion seems thankfully to be on the decline.

As an expat, Christmas is important to me, it’s part of my cultural heritage, but the things I love the most about it is the building of anticipation during the month with an advent calendar, the cookie baking, the Christmas tree, and celebrating with those I love, since gift giving is a tradition and is deep rooted in the celebration, I do it, but thanks to my parents I too keep it simple. This year Ishita will probably get some roller skates because she has shown quite an interest into them for a few months, and that will probably be it. With our probably having to move out of the flat soon, I am not sure if DH and I will exchange gifts this year and I am fine with it too. Cuddling on the sofa might end up being just what the doctor ordered anyway.


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