As the festive season approaches, the preparations in homes around the world begin. The making of sweets and in many varities is one of the bigger traditions upheld by millions of people, be they Christians or not. Families gather around the kitchen table in homes each evening (or even in the morning) and the work gets underway.
In my family things begin to happen as early as the first week of November, and that is a tradition which has been handed down for generations.
My earliest memory of Christmas would be that of my maternal grandmother gearing up for the season. She hailed from Goa, and for those of you familiar with the Portugese/Goan Catholic traditions, you’d probably know that these people do not take the season of Christmas from its religious significance to the festivities, lightly. At all.
Before November ended each year, the two and three foot ceramic jars which lined the wall in rooms of our house were filled to brimming with sweets of every flavor and colour. – They were all homemade sweets made mostly by my grandmother.
Were they for us and our guests?
We’d get to enjoy what was left. (And, there was always plenty left to last us till February.)
The jars would be emptied in the week leading up to Christmas. The goodies would be loaded onto trays and dishes and covered with festive embroidered doilies (also made by my grandmother from August onwards).
The first homes to receive the trays would be ones where there had been a loss that year. Families in mourning were sent Christmas sweets since they would not be making any in their own home. It was to let them know they were in our thoughts, and that they need not worry about their inability to celebrate or come visit.
Their place at our table would not remain empty, it would simply come to them.
After that, the other families living on our street, regardless of race, colour, ethnicity or religion would each receive a tray of sweets as well, but for another reason.
Festivities are meant to be carried forward and shared. The trays were arranged with painstaking care by my grandmother. The items selected for each one corresponded with each neighbor’s (and their families) likes and even dislikes. I realized years later that when she began to make the Christmas sweets, my grandmother kept everyone’s tastes in mind when thinking quantity.
It’s really not a wonder that over twenty five years after her passing, we still receive phone calls and emails (also visits) from a number of our old neighbours at the start of or during the season. Not one of them will ever let the opportunity slide to tell us how Christmas is not really Christmas without Nana’s cakes and sweets, or how when they made a particular one that year themselves with their kids/grandkids, it turned out good, but definitely not as good as she used to make them.
Not that my grandmother would care how anything turned out. But, she’d be as pleased as punch to know tradition was still being carried out decades later in the families she was always so fond of.
Traditions, she never believed in teaching through instruction, but instead inviting people to and sharing it with them in her home and around her table which held a special place for everyone no matter who or what they were.
And, she was not the only one who did it.
Goan homes here where I live were and still are usually filled with immense amounts of activity as the season approaches. Men, women and children are all present and undertaking tasks quite naturally, and in a semblence of order which one can’t really outline. Neighbours drop in unannounced (if they didn’t we’d wonder why), and family however distant is always present.
From which carols play endlessly on the stereo thanks to that one uncle who is too obsessed with Bing Crosby’s Christmas music, to the cousin who never manages to cut the marzipan in the exact shape it should be cut, things still get done. The dough is always formed into whatever it needs to be by that one ace crafter every family has, and on time. The almond toffee starting to get sticky and too tough for just two hands to stir in the huge pot on the stove happens when it should, because you all know there is no way it can get the better of a Mum and Dad team when they attack it together in a silent and determined four handed synchronized stirring. And, the homemade wine always, always turns out perfect, despite it being the first attempt of the family’s new daughter in law, who may or may not have added some of her own twists to her mother in law’s original recipe.
Fun times, laughter, family and friends you don’t really get to enjoy as much throughout the hectic pace of the entire year that’s gone by.
That’s just one part of Christmas for us.
This year, instead of loading mixing bowls and stocking the freezer, I’ll be packing suitcases, and the house will be a lot more quiet as we focus more on our upcoming trip than our usual festivities.
But, in a few weeks we’ll be getting off a plane and heading to my sister’s house to celebrate Christmas with her family. My mother will be there already, and between them all a lot of things will be ready and waiting for us. Although, there will be tons
deliberately left over for us to do.
Despite all that, the time leading up to Christmas will not slide by for me without its usual festive touch. It is completely impossible for me to ignore the season and everything that goes with it, since there is no time in the whole year that I love more (or participate in without any qualms whatsoever).
I never hold back from celebrating the season as much as I can, and sharing it with as many people as I can. And, my grandmother who till now remains a constant in every part of my Christmas festivities is one of the biggest reasons I love doing so.
This year I get to share it with a few more people, that is, all of you (albeit online). But, it will be as special as I can make it.
So, there are a series of posts coming up under the title Spirit of Christmas, where you all will hopefully get to see how and why the different aspects of this wonderful holiday are so important to not just me, but everyone who truly celebrates, and in whatever way they can in their homes or beyond. Fun, sentimental, funny and even annoying, you’re going to get it all.
I invite you to join in and share whatever you’d like to, or just drop in for some fun, music and cheer.
Because, this year for you, there is also a place at my table.