Joyful, all Ye Nations Rise

I often like to joke that Christmas is the one time in the year that successfully brings out my “Catholic” in a big way. It’s not that I get overtly spiritual or prayerful, but I am a traditionalist at heart and the family customs of the season always appeal to me much more than in other seasons.

I feel fortunate to have been born in a family whose religious and cultural roots go all the way back to the Portuguese/Goan colonies in India, with a dash of British in there as well. It’s where my grandparents and their parents were from, and the cultural customs they carried with them to where I live now and how devoutly they practised them have always enriched the season of Christmas for me. I know without all of that I probably wouldn’t have had much to enjoy come Christmastime today.

They are the ones who taught me to appreciate and respect tradition as well as diversity, the importance of kinship and community, but above all, I learned from them how Christmas is universal and not limited to a single community, religious or otherwise.

Imagine my surprise then, when a few years ago a local news channel conducted an interview with a few Christian families during the holidays and talked endlessly about how Christians celebrate “their Christmas.” The show was quite literally presented like some sort of classroom lecture. “Christians do this at their Christmas,” “this is how they do this at their Christmas,” “In Christian homes and churches you will see blah blah blah during their Christmas.”

“Since when,” I asked my husband, “do people here need to be taught about the holidays, and why in the world is the season being shown as a Christian only thing?”

He was as stumped as I was, because both of us had grown up with wide circles of friends, many of them non-Christians, and we could not imagine any of them not knowing what the holiday season was all about. These were the people who would spend hours in our homes helping to decorate our Christmas trees, then we’d trot into their homes and drape streamers on their trees. Entire neighbourhoods would come out of their houses in the week before Christmas and together hoist up massive stars over main streets and lanes. Before that they would spend weeks constructing those same stars, fixing them up with lights and tinsel.

Non-Christian kids who were our neighbours and friends joined us at Christmas parties, and all of us received those ‘magical’ gifts from Santa who whizzed in on a sleigh complete with oddly donkeyish looking reindeer. We went caroling together, from lane to lane in large groups stopping at every house regardless of which religion the family living there followed. No one turned us away, in fact they welcomed us with smiles and sometimes Christmas song requests of their own. We’d sing at church events, attend holiday dances organized by local clubs and parishes, the ever fun-loving Parsi community, hotels and various homes in different parts of the city.

I had no idea what had happened to that culture, I had no idea why I saw so many people within my own country and in neighbouring ones claiming to know nothing about Christmas, or alternatively thinking of it as just a Christian thing. That’s not really how it worked in the rest of the world, so why were people in South Asia behaving like this? Why were there so many people in this region insisting on remaining on the outside looking in on something being celebrated globally? Of course, deep down I knew the answer, had been aware of the growing intolerance around me, watched scores of people leave our homelands for more accepting and distant shores, the rise in religious conservatism which secluded people more than it bonded them with community and country.

Just last week the huz and I were at a pre-Christmas dinner at a friend’s home, and one of the other guests had brought along a musical instrument. A bunch of us began to sing songs which included holiday ones, while another group just sat and looked on (mostly giving us the wtf side-eye as if we were misbehaving at someone’s wake.) After a particularly boisterous version of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph medley, a gentleman from a third group of elderly (and completely non-Christian) people told us to “knock it off and sing something everyone could join in and sing along with.”

He and a female from his group then proceeded to serenade us all with a beautiful rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ which nearly knocked our socks off. Neither of them stopped there, and soon their entire group was singing everything from Silent Night to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, and Joy to the World. What a performance they gave us all.

Needless to say the side-eye crowd were in shock (although why people in their twenties and early thirties should have been is beyond me.) One of them asked the gentleman where he and the others had learned “those Christian Christmas carols” and the old man’s response was classic. He sipped from his glass of whiskey, glared down at the guy and said, “You don’t learn about Christmas, young man, you experience it.”

I wanted to hug the old guy, so I totally did, and I wanted to stick my tongue out at the side-eye WTFers and flip them the bird for being such party poopers, but the huz got in the way asking “If I sing you Silent Night will you hug me too?” and totally ruined the moment.

Call it the holidays, X-Mas, or Christmas itself, celebrate it with mass, or a plastic snowman on your front porch, mistletoe on your door frame, spend endless hours preparing traditional fare or sip hot chocolate and listen to holiday music alone, go Grinch if you must, but there is no denying that this festival is a global celebration, unmatched and unlike any other in the world.

The beauty of the holiday season, always, I believe, lies in its openness and acceptance. There are no closed doors on which visitors need to knock before they are welcomed in to ‘sample’ Christmas. The season itself is all encompassing, whether you acknowledge its pagan origins, revere its Christian message, or enjoy its secular aspects. I think this is why it is celebrated with such zeal in almost every corner of the world, why entire villages, towns and even countries put in tremendous effort and time to making it as beautiful as they can. Some use new and creative ways, others hold fast to age old tradition, even more join in adding their own sparkle and warmth.

I’m going to take a moment and give a special nod of gratitude to my city folk, the many Karachites who have begun to break the mold of intolerance and celebrate this wonderful season once again.

The holidays are right there for the taking, and it is everywhere, so no one can really miss it if they choose not to. There is no glass window you need to stand on the other side of and observe festivities, the magic, the beauty, and don’t let anyone tell you that there is one or should be one.

Here’s wishing you all a season of peace, goodwill and most of all, acceptance.

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anneblog

 Anne is a fiction writer and blogger, and a former hotelier living in the sprawling coastal city of Karachi, Pakistan, with her husband, two kids and a pet fish. A city girl at heart, she likes her coffee strong, books always within arm’s reach, perfumes by the boatload, music of the old school variety, beaches sans the crowds, cozy cafes early in the mornings, and intimate encounters with Jack Daniels on Saturday nights.

On Deranged Writers, Anne writes her personal blog Eight in the Morning, and the humorous feature Pillow Talk.

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11 thoughts on “Joyful, all Ye Nations Rise

  1. In Rush to attend the Christmas lighting the Candles at a Hospice.
    Singing and Lighting A Candle.
    Centre Piece is A Beautiful Blue Norway Fir Tree.
    Young & Old
    From every Walk of life come to Gather
    Holding Hands with one & All
    Holding My Daughter & my Granddaughter’s Hand
    No matter who One is or How old One is.
    We all are there for Each Other.
    Hope & Tranquility & Happiness is Personified.
    The Smile Says it All
    Shall come back let You know MY POV
    i.e. If it is ok.
    🎄🎇🎄🎆🎄

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful piece .
    As a non-Christian kid who grew experiencing Christmas , I share all the sentiments here. The gifts, Santa , the tree , the parties – the food, cake,…everything. it’s been part of my life since forever. And now that I think of there was a sense of unity , Christmas and it’s magic belonged to each one of us . No distinctions.
    I am just glad that the little kids back home are growing up with the same notion and there is no need to educate them. Glad that some things still remain so shared , together irrespective of the silly political rhetoricals.
    But I do have to say though, I could never learn the carols- that never happened and never will. I am hopeless when it comes to singing or remembering them .
    I still mail dad what I need as my Santa gift , some traditions go beyond religion, spiritual and social boundaries. the spirit of Christmas is all about together and oneness . Joyous and happy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The beauty of the holiday season, always, I believe, lies in its openness and acceptance. — very true Anne!!!

    The holidays are right there for the taking, and it is everywhere, so no one can really miss it if they choose not to. There is no glass window you need to stand on the other side of and observe festivities, the magic, the beauty, and don’t let anyone tell you that there is one or should be one. — thanks Anne & Chani ! Once I was on the other side watching with awe the festival but you showed me that I too can be a part of it if I want. I no longer have to stand & watch. I am in its glory 🙂

    Duke always have great timing 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely agree with what you’re saying Anne. Christmas is perhaps the one universally celebrated festival, regardless of age, culture, race, or religious belief.
    I think I could relate it to some extent with Diwali here in India, which is also celebrated by us non-Hindus who perform a lot of the little rituals of the season.
    I live in a traditionally, and predominantly, Catholic suburb. My kids went to Catholic schools and have always been more comfortable with their Christian friends than those from the “ever fun-loving Parsi community” (thank you for that xoxo)
    Our entire neighborhood is lit with strings of lights and lanterns and some old bungalows even have huge Christmas trees in their gardens that are lit up beautifully.
    Midnight mass, Christmas bazaars, Christmas dances are all attended with as much zeal by the non-Christians as they are by the Catholics.
    I think given the current atmosphere of intolerance in the world, this is the only way that we can, and MUST, come together and celebrate the season of loving and giving and forgiveness.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I hear you, sister!!!!

    As Indians outside of India, our family has gradually adopted Christmas as a celebration of choice. Diwali is more celebrated as homage to our ethnic roots. I will never forget the first Christmas in UK where I went caroling with my school friends and hot cider doled out to us and the snow flakes slowly falling as we sang our hearts out….sigh..lovely memories. Then the awesome Church service on Christmas morning and the first Christmas presents….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank You CG.
    Came back late from Lighting the Candle Festivity
    The Blue Fir Tree looked Spectacular.
    Twinkling Lights. The Shinning Star. And at the Top the Beautiful Angel.
    Picture Perfect it Was.
    Candles were lit in the Memories of Loved Ones
    Candles were Lit for Peace & Harmony.
    Candles were Lit for Forgiveness.
    Candles were Lit for Thanking for little Mercy.
    Candles were Lit for Caring & Sharing
    Candles were Lit by Young & Old
    Christian or not.
    Catholic or not.
    Carols were Sung. Nativity was played out.
    Santa Arrived. Smiles oh so Precious Smiles
    Hands of Friendship were extended.
    The Fragrance of Warm Mulled Wine.
    Citrus, Cinnamon, Cloves & a Big Glug of Red Wine + a Dash of Cognac. Oh the Warmth it Gave.
    Toffee Apples. Cane Candies Galore
    Children had sparkling Red or White Grape Juice
    The Mince Pies. Slice of Rich Dundee Cake
    So Well Done. Tranquility & Sheer Happiness
    Sheer Nostalgia.
    Local Businesses came together. Big or Small.
    Truly Christmas Has Arrived.
    Let’s put all our Grievances on one side.
    Join our Hands & our Thoughts to make this World a Better Place for
    One & All.
    When All the Children Held Hands Singing their Hearts Out.
    Parents Smiling. Hugging & Wishing.
    Innocent Gesture but a Powerful Picture.
    Look forward to this Every Year.
    This Year was Special as I Held My Granddaughter’s Hand.
    “Merry Christmas Nani” Big Hug & A Slooby Kiss.
    Prayed for the Coming Generations that it will be a Better Place.
    A Happier World for One & All
    Put Our Differences Aside.
    World is getting Smaller.
    Let’s Reach Out Where Ever You are Or Who Ever You Are.
    MERRY CHRISTMAS to All at DW.
    MERRY CHRISTMAS to One & All.
    Looking Forward to Midnight Mass.
    💌❤️

    🎄🎅🎄🎇🎄🎆🎅🎄

    Like

  7. iam of the opinion that festivals should be celebrated by all irrespective of religion, caste or creed. It brings a particular kind of bond linking us all together.

    Like

  8. Every festival is kind of universal especially in time of like such when Sattanism is at its peak and people have totally forgotten the humanity. When killing people is like eating meat and when a religion of peace is termed as religion of brutality due to the worshippers of sattan using it as a mask for their evil deeds. Loved ur experience n specially this line

    “If I sing you Silent Night will you hug me too?”

    Sho.shweet and cute!

    Like

  9. Amen to that!

    I don’t know what it is about these days that people are so territorial. I am not a Christian and neither are my parents, most of my friends or relatives but everyone has always celebrated Christmas. I have always had a tree and we always made holiday food and just the other day everyone was calling each other asking what is happening for Christmas lunch? And this is a group of Buddhists, Hindu’s Muslims and Christians and our Christmas lunch is hosted by a Hindu this year! One thing that I am proud of when I see the zest with which Sri Lankan’s are preparing and celebrating the holidays is that at least there is a lot of tradition, warmth and good cheer that brings communities together.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There is something special about Christmas … It just engulfs you in its folds … I was pleasantly surprised to hear that it is celebrated with so much zeal even in Karachi …

    Like

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