Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love – time is eternity.
Dear Hardyk Babu, My angel and my snowman, my candy cane and my plumcake,
I am sure you have been a good boy this year, and that Santa will be very happy with you. I know Santa is happy with me, since he has given me the strength to go through all that I have been through in these last few years and has promised me the most glorious new year ever.
Like almost everything else in life, for every person who believes in Christmas, there are two that don’t. Fortunately, that is not enough to take the air out of this wonderful festival, and the world over, people get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 as the Christ Mass. The festive season that starts with Thanksgiving (a harvest festival that was reworked to give thanks for the protection of the European colonizers of North America) reaches its “spiritual” height with Christmas and then climaxes over the new year’s celebrations.
In the modern world, where we consider ourselves a liberated and secular society, all people celebrate Christmas with equal fervour, and it has become one of the major festivals of our times. I grew up with Christmas being one time that our entire family would get together, I would be home for the winter break from school, and all my cousins and aunts and uncles would be in town too. As most of my exposure centred around art and literature that referred to a Christian understanding of life and morality, I was familiar with the idea. I knew that it was the birthday of Jesus Christ (or so I was told, since there is a very large body of knowledge to suggest otherwise), and that Santa was not a misspelling of Satan, but someone who brought gifts to kids who had been more or less good most of the year. I would hang up my sock at the head of my bed every Christmas eve and would find it filled with gifts the next morning. It was not until I was a teenager that I stopped hanging a sock up. Over the last few years though, I have again started hanging my sock up every Christmas, and in his own way, Santa has been filling it up too.
As soon as December would come around, we would be waiting when the Christmas tree would be pulled down from the loft, and the box of decorations and bauble audited for what needed to be bought fresh. Dried fruits would be drenched in liquors and kept ready for baking rich fruit cakes. When I was small, I was not included in the secret planning for buying gifts for everyone, but later, I would be part of that too. Secret, because no one should come to know what their gifts were till Christmas Day itself. The chill of the winter evenings would make our cheeks go red as we went from doorstep to doorstep with a three chord guitarist and rest of our teenage band that remained like unset jelly till it had to be discarded, singing carols, overflowing with the spirit of light and love. The fact that none of us were Christians by subscription did not stop us from being Christians at heart, and this was something that was not restricted to just the festive season.
The principles of love, forgiveness, compassion, universal brotherhood of man, and nonviolence that Jesus taught through his life are principles that our times are desperately in need of. Of course, man, in his finite wisdom has managed to carve up even something as beautiful as Christianity into sects and denominations that have more to disagree upon than unite for. This, unfortunately is true of all religions today. The fault does not lie with the religions, but with the temptation of power that comes with articulated and organized religion.
As children, it was the goodies though that were more important that the Joycean debates about religion and politics that were the highlights of Christmas. Typically, there would be a variety of baked stuff going around in every home, from plum cakes to pies, and Christmas eve dinner would traditionally be an elaborate continental spread, with soups and breads, roasts and sauces, and wines and puddings. If I was able to stay up till midnight, there would be a ritualistic unwrapping of the gifts that would mysteriously appear at the foot of the Christmas tree. I would struggle to stay awake all night so that I could see Santa Claus come in and stuff the sock, but all I would get would be a scolding from my dad when he would come into the room and find me still awake. Lunch on Christmas day would be a little more desi, but usually still loaded with animal proteins and elaborate preparations.
In some form or the other, these traditions have continued into the present. Like many others who observe Christmas in spite of being indifferent to organized religions, I still try and be home for Christmas. I still hang up a sock in my heart. I still reflect on the life of Jesus and what he stood for, perhaps a little more mindfully on this day than on any other day of the year.
As I write this, wars rage furiously across Yemen and Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mexico and Colombia, and Sudan and Somalia. Millions die from hunger, from lack of medical attention, and from hate crimes, farmer suicides and honor killings in our own country. Families and loved ones build walls of resentment, judgement and discrimination between each other. Politicians and corporates pursue greed and power, without realizing that matter is finite, and one cannot create material benefit without taking it away from someone else, without realizing that all glory and all power belongs to the supreme being that all religions try to describe and worship. Yet, in the midst of all this there is hope, there is faith, and there is charity. But that is another story altogether, and I will save it for another day.
Let me leave you with lines by the same person who wrote the lines that this post starts with,
I am thinking of you today because it is Christmas
and I wish you happiness.
And tomorrow, because it will be the day after Christmas,
I shall still wish you happiness.
My thoughts and my wishes will be with you always.
Whatever joy comes to you will make me glad.
All through the year
I wish you the spirit of Christmas.
- Henry Van Dyke
The way we have been being good, very soon Santa will make it possible for us to be together, of this I and all at home are certain. Do stay warm in these cold months, drink a lot of water, and listen to your elders. Follow your heart and never doubt where it leads you to. Ask questions and don’t stop asking till you are satisfied. People may get annoyed or even angry, but then that is their problem. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!