Christmas is here. And Chennai, who looks out for every excuse for a celebration, seems to be out of steam. It seems that the hotels, malls and gift showrooms are the ones that are celebrating. Or maybe that’s what I feel because of the warm memories of the cool Christmases I had back home. The dry air, cold mornings and the wind blowing away the fallen leaves…. Another reason to say I missed Kerala.
Christmas became important to me just about two decades ago, after I became a kindergarten student in the convent school near my home. That was my first Christmas celebration. There was a beautifully decorated crib in the corner of the hall where we had our classes. That day, our class teacher announced that we’d have a week-long holiday.
Afternoon, a priest from the nearby church came and he told (read preached) the story of Jesus Christ. Then, a small packet of goodies was handed to us. It had a piece of cake, some toffees, a comb and a plastic whistle. From the next year onwards, students used to stage the Holy Birth. The fair-skinned girls from all classes were chosen to play angels, and the tallest of them would be Gabriel. Then there would be the three wise men, kings who came following the star. The pack of goodies shrivelled to some toffees in the coming years, but the show continued.
I got the chance to be one of the three kings when I was in standard IV. And during the annual day drama next year, I played Jesus Christ. But what made Christmas celebrations more joyous was the relief after the quarterly exams and the coming weeklong holiday.
Back home, I always tried to make a crib like the one I saw in school. But mine would always me a smaller, crude version. Walls of the stable would be made of book binds and the idols were cutouts from greeting cards. For us, making a crib was more interesting than making an athappoo during Onam.
My Christmas lost its sheen once I left the convent. In the boys’ high school, Christmas was just a huge chunk of holidays, when we got a relief from the impending cane of our class teacher. I had decided to make a crib every year, but failed in the second year there.
Then came the Christmas of 1999, the one I celebrated in a train! I was on my way to attend the National Children’s Congress in Goa that year. Our train was on December 25 from Eranakulam. I was roaming around in Kollam railway station with a newfound friend at Christmas Eve. That was the best winter in my life till date, I think.
I never regained the enthusiasm to celebrate Christmas after that, though I would assist my little cousin, student of the same convent, to make his crib. But every year, I used to wait for Christmas. The cold mornings and the dry December wind would bring fond memories to my mind. And during my plus two days, December 21 became more important than Christmas to me. That vacation was our study leave before the model exams.
All these sentiments completely drained away when I joined college. There, days were boringly routine. There too, the dry wind that shook the Cyprus trees, filling the playground with dead leaves, kindled the Christmas spirit. Once, when the wind blew up some dead leaves into the tuition class, my kindergarten buddy and collage-mate exclaimed, "Chritmasile kaattu!"(The Christmas wind!)
I will be leaving for home tonight. My Christmas this year will be spent in train, the second one "celebrated" out of my home. Before typing this post, I googled "Christmas spirit". Result showed a lot of ways to spend this vacation, offers waiting to make the Christmas shopping a wonderful experience, but didn’t show anything that says about what an infant born in a stable in Jerusalem 2000 years ago taught us through his birth, life and death.
Maybe, we should take a walk in a chilly morning, with the dry wind blowing away the dead leaves around us…