As an Army child, I had the good fortune of celebrating the festivals of many prominent religions and cultures as long as my father was a part of a large regiment. The entire cantonment got together for the celebration. The mood was festive all around, since the entire community was involved. It not only made us aware of the sensibilities of other religions and cultures, we also got to have a lot of fun doing things we wouldn’t have otherwise done. Being a Hindu, I would never have known to bow down at a Gurudwara or hang the Christmas stockings. Christmas. It is somehow a very special festival. We got wrapped gifts. I got to do what I loved best in household work at that age — bake. And Santa was a dear friend’s father, usually (at every different posting, each new station).
My first memory of Christmas is looking under the community Christmas tree for a gift that had the brightest gift wrapping paper on it. If I remember right, I loved the ones with blue and silver diagonal stripes, or the ones with candy canes printed on them. The gifts weren’t named, of course, because there were so many children. There was no way for giving customised gifts unless the organisers were resourceful enough to employ elves, which, I am certain, they weren’t. But they were generous in their choice of gift wrappers, and I wasn’t complaining. Cotton was the customary substitute for snow. It was strewn on any tree of choice that served as The Tree of the Evening, fairy lights glittered on it and around. And the manger scene on the side was never forgotten. Thoughtful people added a lot of toy cows and calves on the straw. I loved the eyes of these animal dolls (many had pink cheeks, somehow). I loved the smell of straw. I loved Christmas. And before I forget, I loved the confetti. It was a mixture of straw and confetti on the floor, usually.
My first memory of caroling is of a much older me. The second school at which I taught had a British heritage. Besides many other things, they caroled on Christmas Eve. This is by far the winner in my list of Thank-Someone-I-Worked-In-This-School. The old tradition (the school was founded in 1837) was to walk around the campus and come into the School Chapel to sing more. By the time they got around to employing me, the carols were just sung inside the Chapel. Another tradition that remained intact was that it was the teachers who sang. We were green carolers, most of us. But Val did a good job in training us. And she included some songs as well. We sang. And swayed. And loved it. We shone those nights. This is where I first got introduced to White Christmas. To aid us in understanding the ‘feel’ of it (as a musician friend put it), she made us listen to Frank Sinatra’s rendition (or could’ve been someone else. But not Bing Crosby). This song transported me to new worlds. Of white blankets of snow. Most of all, for some strange reason, eyelashes full of snow flakes. The voice haunted me with the dream of a childhood that had seen snow, but never snow fall. I remember un-snowing strawberries at a place we were visiting. Snow had visited just the previous night. We were left with the reminders. It was many years later that I could reach the town (another one) in time for her arrival.
White Christmas is probably so important because when I imagine white snow with green, and red things and yellow lights, I can, in a way, live those fairy tales I read as a child. It is such a magical feeling. Unlike many people whom I’ve subsequently heard talking of waking up to a white day on Christmas, I imagined myself standing next to a Christmas tree, wearing a green scarf, seeping it all in. And lo! There’s snow. Falling down on everything, everything holding on to it like a sheath of happiness. Everything including my eyelashes. Soon, there’s White Christmas like no other. The vision is just a thought now, but it is a dreamy, magical one.
Snow obliged me at my husband’s home town, never fear. It wasn’t Christmas, but I can boast a new-found joy. Of having seen the flakes glide down, so carefree, so sure they’ll find just the right spot to rest. Beautiful.
I will wait for the day it snows on Christmas day at the place I live in. Wherever I am at the time. For I will not travel for the experience. It will have to come to me. Like the joy of seeing calf dolls with pink cheeks.
Like the Green Eyes, too. As lil’ Priya, I was sure I would wake up one day, look at the mirror, and see that my eyes had turned green. Every morning, I’d go and stand in front of the mirror with my eyes closed and open them with the hope that the eyes had turned green. They never did, of course. But I never stopped hoping for it either. Not wishing, but hoping. I enjoyed my daily morning ritual for a number of years. Until I forgot to look in the mirror for them.