‘What should we do for Christmas?’ A rhetoric question posed to myself at the dining table after the Thanksgiving dinner brought about many unsolicited comments. ‘Oh no, not another party mom! I want a few quiet days to veg at home and not entertain anybody. Why do we have to have guests every single time?’ That was our darling son. I often wondered where Sujoy’s unsocial genes came from?
‘That’s a good point Sujoy’ supported his dad looking at me ‘Yes mom..why?. Why do we have to invite guests every single time? I am on call this Christmas. Maybe we should simply veg like Sujoy mentions. Do a movie marathon, eat good food, snooze a little in the afternoon..how does that sound.?’
Looks like the husbands got switched around the same time as the babies at the hospital!
‘Whatever you wish. No guests, no parties. Only vegging’ I sighed to myself.
I should have waited a few more days before broaching this topic. It was too soon after Thanksgiving.
‘Are you seriously ok about not doing anything mom?’
Of course not…but I did not argue.
“You guys are right..it’s too much of a hassle. Lets not do anything this year’.
I laughed on seeing the look of intense amazement on their faces!
But as Dec crept in…I could not accept the fact that we will do nothing but veg at home.
The AXOMIA-ness in me could not come to terms with that.
Not invite anybody.
Not go anywhere.
How can that be!!
Of course, from a religious perspective, Christmas holds no emotional meaning for me.
The whole community gearing for the festival- with light festooned garlands, the beautifully decorated Christmas trees, the crazy holiday shopping, the caroling, the cookie baking, the many family traditions passed down the generations – that’s what spoke to me.
The traditional emotional / social aspects of shared enjoyment.
The community wide celebration of glad tidings, merriment and food.
The palpable excitement in the air!
Growing up, I, had learned about Christmas from the nuns at my alma mater St Marys. Several of us friends were often invited to the home of our teacher Ms Jean, where we ate Christmas cake and ‘oohed and aahed’ over the small brightly lit / decorated tree in her drawing room.
However Christmas was not something that excited me as our own traditional festivals of Bihu, Puja or Diwali, did. Guess it was sharing of the event as a ‘community’ that made these cultural / religious festivals so very special.
The cooking for the uruka dinner, the building and lighting of the mazi, the making of pithas, the traditional visits to each family members house the next morning.
Attending the over crowded puja mandals. Listening to the mahalaya chants in the cold foggy mornings.
Preparing the hundreds of earthen oil lamps in the afternoon for Diwali lighting.
Running and hiding during the crazy color smearing / cold water drenching fun times of holi…..
Traditions & rituals associated with each celebration, that we all knew about, cherished, loved and eagerly waited for each year. The ‘collective celebration’ spirit that engulfed us, excited us, made us hyper.
All that reversed when we came to the West
Christmas and Thanksgiving were the ‘ shared community event’s while…
Bihu was relegated to that one Saturday in April where the local Americans of Assamese ethnicity celebrated a ‘ Bihu get together’ in a church hall.
Diwali dinner followed by a cultural program became the norm in October.
While throwing of colors for holi was something that we occasionally went to witness on a Saturday at the local temple.
Bihu, Diwali, Holi….the greater community we lived in had absolutely no clue about these festivals. Indeed any mention of such ethnic festivals generated an international dialogue..of what, why, where & hows.
Conversation killer it was!!!!
No shared joy.
No shared traditions.
No shared memories.
The many rich ‘culturalism’ lost in the shuffle of the immigrant’s life transitions
The first few years after coming to the West, we did not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. Like many of our Indian brethren we went to someones house and ate a meal together; one of the many typical ‘POTLUCK’ Indian dinners in the home(s) of one or the other universal ‘Indian Uncle & Aunty’ A gift exchange, a decorated Christmas tree was a bonus..the extend of Christmas celebrated. Not much different from the typical ‘social potluck’ dinners we went to most weekends! Indeed the IISS- ‘Indian Immigrants Social Scene’…as our children like to call these dinners included Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Independence day, birthdays, graduations, engagements etc etc. One POTLUCK dinner rolled onto the next with no unique qualities to identify the occasion!!!
It was my sister in England who first suggested that we do something special for Sujoy.. to give him that sense of enjoying an community event with his friends in the neighborhood and at school.
Made so much of sense to me when she explained it that way.
It is so true…our kids are neither here nor there.
They dont get the full emotional / social experience of the Indian festivals
Neither do they get the full emotional / social experience of the Western festivals.
The ‘INBETWEEN’ immigrant kids- whose social scene comprised of potluck dinners with their parents!
Thus the celebration of NON DENOMINATIONAL CHRISTMAS traditions started in our home.
Every year we adopted and added to our list of things to do..and which changed over the years as Sujoy grew older.
We went to Christmas concerts.
We went to Church services.
We decorated our home together with ‘a hint of Christmas’
We baked Christmas cookies and made gingerbread houses with friends.
We did the naughty elf, the advent calendar, the Christmas caroling.
We left milk and cookies for Santa.
We exchanged meaningful gifts and in the high school years …the secret Santa made its appearance.
None of these rituals held any emotional meaning for me.
I picked them up from my coworkers, watching TV or reading about them
But it made wonderful sense to Sujoy
Memories that became meaningful for him…that makes him feel ‘he belonged’ to the greater community
Things he could share easily, could identify with and looked forwards to each year.
But after he left for college, many of these rituals fell by the wayside.
Died a natural death.
However of the many rituals established, the one thing that was special to me and which I continued over the years….. was the non traditional Christmas dinner with folks from all walks of life. Older folks, younger folks, folks from different parts of India, folks from different parts of the world, folks from different religious and cultural denominations- an eclectic group of folks whoever was available, breaking bread together on this ‘special occasion’ at our home – made my day.
Gave meaning to my Christmas!
Followed by the yearly holiday family portraits done by Gautam..to show our aging in this new Country!
What more can one ask for?
Days of preparation..the Christmas decoration, the menu, the place setting, the shopping, the cooking with the Christmas Carols blaring in the background…..savoring each single moment of the festive season. Excitement in the air…Christmas has indeed become the American BIHU in our household.
And now the boys are saying no to this meaningful tradition?
As the days passed and my angst increased, I was not sure how and when to re-open that topic of the Christmas dinner. This is when several angels came to my rescue!!!
Angels from Japan, USA and Israel decided to host an International Christmas dinner in our home with a traditional American iconic movie -A Christmas Story. ‘ Ajanta we must watch this movie together…it is a must every Christmas. Dont worry about the food we will bring everything. It is our party. We just need a home’ We were invited to a party in our own home hosted by my good friends. How can one say no to such a kind and delightful invitation?
I therefore accepted graciously.
Gautam and Sujoy’s mouth dropped open when I extended this invitation to them.
Soon after this one -of- a -kind invitation, in the course of a girls night out, several friends inquired about our Christmas plans. Since many of them were working over the holidays the discussion turned to something like …’it will be nice if a few of us can met after work. After all we are working and in town’
I decided on a compromise.
An OPEN HOUSE between 4 – 8 Pm, for a few folks .
Folks that are working.
Folks that have no family visiting.
Folks that we have not seen in a long while
Folks that can come only during the vacation weekend
Not many….maybe 10 folks tops.
Food from Costco, Trader Joe and Concannons
Hassle free entertainment!
My talking points ready, I, gingerly broached the topic with Gautam.
If I can win him over Sujoy will be a go.
2 against 1…Hah!
Gautam smiled on hearing me ‘ We were waiting to see what you will do. How long before you bring up the topic!. We know you. An open house sounds ideal. With the annual portraits..right? ‘ The latter was his thing.
They laughed at my amazed face.
Last night we had the wonderful international dinner / traditional movie night…hosted by my lovely friends. A thoroughly enjoyable night it was. Sujoy and Gautam were all smiles when the final guest left…’guess it was a fun night’
This morning I woke in a panic
Rush! Rush! Rush
So much to do
Shopping, Cleaning, Organizing, Cooking …for the open house with a few folks on the Christmas day! Somehow my count of few people turned out to be 35 plus.
I was always terrible in math!
A very Merry Christmas to you all from the Phookan household.
May the spirit of Christmas bring you peace,
The gladness of Christmas give you hope,
The warmth of Christmas grant you love.