Josna Rege

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas in India’

166. In the Bleak Midwinter

In 1960s, 2010s, Childhood, Family, India, Inter/Transnational, Music, Stories, United States on December 9, 2012 at 10:08 am
Ganapati in the snow, kitchen garden
Ganapati in the snow, kitchen garden

My best Christmas memory ever:  on the front verandah in Hijli, Christmas Day, at age 10 or 11, cutting out paper dolls all by myself, looking out at the pale winter sky above the scrubby forest beyond our bungalow on the outer edge of the campus, and singing  “The First Nowell” at the top of my voice.

We must have opened our stockings (pillow-cases, actually) in the morning, eaten our Christmas meal in the early afternoon, and then had the rest of the day to play at a leisurely pace. After all the anticipation and excitement I was contented and at peace, and there was a limited number of things to do: read our new Tintin book, learn how to walk on my new stilts, or cut out and dress the paper dolls. And of course, sing Christmas carols, every single one I knew.

Looking back now, I realize that those Christmasses of my childhood weren’t unlike the one described in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie in their spareness—at least, relative to most Christmasses in the United States or Britain today. We had no television and were exposed to almost no advertising except in the newspaper and The Illustrated Weekly; and in any case, Christmas was not a widely-celebrated holiday in India, so there was no media hype whipping us into a frenzy for weeks in advance. With the exception of books or the bicycle which was the biggest Christmas present of my childhood, almost anything that we asked for, our mother and father had to make themselves. Although Sally and I received more than Laura and Mary’s tin cups, peppermint candy canes, white sugar cakes, and bright new pennies, we children found great joy in things that would now be considered very simple indeed. From early December we took pleasure in the carols we sang at no other time of year and in the arrival of every new card (see Across the Miles), waiting eagerly for Dad to bring the mail home every afternoon. We looked forward to waking up on Christmas morning to see the tree decorated (see Saint Nicholas’ Day) with the elf or sprig of holly on it that had arrived in the parcel from Auntie Angy. We delighted in the tangerines and whole walnuts that somehow made their way into our pillowcases, delicacies that we didn’t see at any other time of year.

As I look back in memory on Christmasses Past, what I miss most are the feelings of peace and wonder that I know my mother, with her own childlike delight in Christmas, made possible as she prepared our home for the season. Now, with no children in the house anymore and nothing but work and missed deadlines as far as the eye can see, I’m finding it  hard to cultivate the Christmas spirit. What I need more than anything is to clear a space for it.

Although I am not an adherent of any one organized religion, I love the Christian season of Advent. I love the quiet advent carols, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, and In the Bleak Midwinter, as they acknowledge the cold and dark, long for the prophecied birth, and prepare to welcome the blessèd Child. As children we had a slightly battered advent calendar that we took out again every year, and every year we anticipated anew the daily opening of each window or door, even though we had opened them all many times before and well knew what we would find in the wooden manger when at last we opened the stable door on the twenty-fifth of December.

It is now December the ninth, with Christmas a little more than two weeks away and less than two weeks before my own precious child’s birthday on the twenty-second. Besides the cleaning and decorating I must obviously undertake, my greater task between now and then is to make room for the spirit, should it grace me with its presence. When we go to the carol service on Christmas Eve, I hope to be able to sing O Little Town of Bethlehem with a quiet expectant stillness and an open heart, holding a small lighted candle to welcome the Prince of Peace:

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
Their great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

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