The meaning of Christmas - for me

This morning I read a post in Yahoo! news. People in a neighborhood in Michigan were sent anonymous letters telling them that the Christmas lights that they had put up were "pagan" in origin and therefore, they should be taken down. A lot of comments appeared under that post ranging from good, bad and ugly. 


I wanted to post a comment myself and then I realized that what I had wanted to say would not suffice in a solitary reply. So here goes..


I grew up in a Christian family in a completely Hindu neighborhood. For all our lives I felt I did not fit in with all the traditions of the Pujas and Diwali and Holi (which was always during Lent, so we never were allowed to participate). 


However, 


I still remember waking up on a chill fall morning, listening to the Mahalaya program on the radio, while curled up under cozy blankets. 


I still remember bursting firecrackers on Diwali, and the luchi/meat kossa dinner we always had that night. 


I still remember the loud blaring microphones during the Pujas - ten days of agony for us, as the pandal was right in front of our house. But I totally enjoyed the dressing up and the pandal viewing that went along with it. And the food at the different stalls at the various melas. Delicious fun!


But I wonder what the neighbors thought of us? We had a religion that did not worship deities. We didn't participate in all their home pujas even though we would go over, but kept ourselves a little apart. We were a little different. We even ate forbidden meats (although we kept that part to ourselves, lol).


Then Christmas would come around. We lived in small company quarters. But our uncles, aunts, cousins, my dad's cousins, their families and our grandparents would all gather at our place on Christmas Eve. Our neighbors' children - who were our closest friends - would help up decorate the house and the tree. Carolers would arrive one night before Christmas, and all our neighbors looked forward to them coming in the chill winter night, and singing the joyous news of Christ's birth. They would come outside to listen as well. And they loved it. The house would be full of the smell of baking and my aunt and mom would be busy stitching the new dresses that we would wear to church the next day. We would send out big plates of goodies to all the neighbors. In the morning there would be gifts under our pillows (no stockings for us!) After church it was a big dinner, and then we would all just stay at our place. There would be card games for the adults and we kids amused ourselves along with all the neighbors' kids, who all joined in! 
Then dad retired and we left our quarters. I moved to Calcutta where I joined a church that my brother-in-law used to go to. The congregation was small compared to the size of the church. But it was a close family, too. I also joined the choir as an alto. That deep voice of mine was finally coming into use. At Christmas time, we usually put up a special service. 


One year, I was supposed to give the sermon at this special service. I was looking for references about Christmas and a meaningful way to start the sermon. At that time, I lived as a paying guest with a Bengali family in Behala - who also happened to be the cousin of a close friend of ours. She came into my room as I was working on the sermon. We started talking and she told me something that still stays with me today. She said, 'I love this tradition of gift-giving that you have. It seems so nice to think of other people during this time. What is the significance of this gift-giving?' Unknowingly, she had given me the meaning of Christmas in one small sentence. This would be the gist of my sermon. The gift of Christmas. 


While this tradition dates back to Roman times, Christians incorporated it into their Christmas tradition as the Magi had brought gifts for the baby Jesus. But my take on that it is that it is bigger than that. 


Christmas brought us the gift of Jesus. 


It is the gift of life that Jesus gave us - eternal life. 


It is the gift of love that Jesus gave us - knowing that God loves us as His children. 


It is the gift of peace and goodwill toward all men. A time to set aside all the bad things of the past and look forward to a new beginning with kindness and love.


So what does it matter how I package this gift? Be it with lights, and decorations and gift-giving. Who is to judge me on how I want to celebrate this gift?


And how does it matter what the date of Christ's birth is? What matters is that He was born. 


Merry Christmas and Happy new Year, everyone!

Comments

  1. this was beautiful. and for a christian family with no tradition of gifts, we understand the gift of universal good will.. I love that secularism that happens in government quarters. so many communities, all living together in harmony. I love the way you described it. I love the fact that your family had your own voice, and a loved one at that, among the mostly hindu residents.

    and it reminds me of why i should have a blog in my own name, even when i post under faceless alias most of the time. to remind me that i have my own individuality, and a thinking mind that is my own, even if it is one in a billion.
    so here's my name, and a part of my life, because sometimes, being me is more important than being a faceless stranger.
    -guturgutur

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