Members of the Anglo-Indian community tell SOMA BASU everybody has a Christmas in their hearts
At 62, Annette Rozario loves to dance. She has it in her bones and like every year, this Christmas too she is eagerly awaiting the annual sell out event – the Christmas ball dance at the Railway Institute.
“Christmas used to be fun,” she says and adds with a smile, “it still is, except that our strength has gone down.” Earlier there were more than 750 families and when you walked through the Railway Colony where majority of the Anglo-Indians lived, you could hear the tinkle of piano keys or sound of the guitar and see more women out in floral print dresses. Now less than 300 families are left and only three of them reside in the Railway Colony.
For the Christmas festivities, around 200 families turn up. This year the Madurai chapter of the All India Anglo-Indian Association which brings people together to celebrate under the same roof has planned a fancy dress ball for the elderly. It is being revived after a gap and the seniors can come in any costume of their choice and are free to show off their talents.
A similar event takes place every year exclusively for the children on 23rd night with fancy dress competition, lots of games, tea party and gifts from the Santa.
Carol singing and dancing is an integral part of the celebrations, she adds. Time and circumstances haven’t really dulled the community’s enthusiasm. Annette still goes serenading. “Earlier we would walk from house to house from dusk to dawn singing carols. Now we take a van and go to specific homes where invited. There are times when we sing from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” she says.
Annette puts on her dancing shoes with ease. “When I rock-n-roll, everyone loves it,” says this teacher for the tiny-tots at Adhyapana School. She has never had any training except in bharatanatyam but does kargattam to cha-cha-cha, waltz, quickstep, twist, hip hop and foxtrot with flair and everybody knows Annette aunty as a fantastic dancer.
At the Christmas ball, the genres of song are mostly Rock ‘n’ Roll and Country, besides a few staples like the hokey-pokey, birdie and the line dances. Everybody is on their feet with or without dancing shoes as Annette’s nephew Marcus Cleur and his band ‘The Flashback’ dole out the evergreen numbers, White Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock, Santa Claus is Coming to Town among others.
Says Dr.Nancy Ann Cythia Francis, doctor-turned-MLA, all the festivity, eating, drinking and celebrations are social necessities but everybody actually starts preparing four weeks before with Advent. The Christmas trees and lights, decorations and streamers, the Christmas star and the crib are bought new or pulled out of storage in every home that also becomes rich with the aroma of baking. Everybody joins carol singing. “Due to paucity of time these days, she says, many people go for readymade things but still there are many who still make lot of traditional sweets at home and also bake the rich plum cake.”
“How we do certain things may have altered but values have been retained,” she asserts.
“Earlier all family members would get together in kneading the dough for the big plum cake. Every teen would have once stirred the dry fruits, candied peel and brandy that went into it,” points out Annette.” Families sat together making the kulkuls (sweet and salty savouries made with maida and wheat), rose cookies, doddal (halwa made with puttu rice), banana chips, coconut sweets and different types of fruit, sponge or bright butter cake. In some homes, wine and OT (ginger wine) is also prepared and gifted.
Midnight mass is always the highlight and everybody attends it dressed in their best fashionable attires and matching accessories. After returning home, everyone gets to eat a slice of freshly baked cake, collect their gifts from under the Christmas tree, catch a few hours of sleep before starting the rounds of Christmas calls next morning.
Roasted stuffed turkey formed the grand Christmas lunch those days as large families gathered around and shared the big treat. Now mostly chicken biriyani and coconut rice with meat kofta curry appear on the dining table.
But then, as Dr.Nancy points out, the celebration is not only about materialistic things but more about giving ourselves, sharing and loving.
The Church looks prettier than usual and cheerful lively carols are sung. Happiness is omnipresent. After the midnight mass, the coffee fellowship at the Divine Patience Church in Railway Colony, which we visit, is a time to socialise, pray for the sick, tap for donations and charity. What I like here is the interesting mix of cultures and tradition. We eat cakes and vadas, women come out in their best silk saris and men are attired in formal suits. Children these days are smart and know that all their wish letters to Santa are actually met by the parents. My family insists on sending greetings cards to all members, baking the cake at home in batches for all friends, neighbours and family. We don’t want crass commercialisation to rob us off certain charm.
Professor D. Samuel Lawrence
Apart from attending the special service that day, it has been my practice to meet friends, particularly the old and ailing. I give gifts and spend some time with them as they crave for love and attention. To me, this gives more happiness and joy than all the festivities associated with Christmas.
Celebration differs according to age, as the priorities change. When I was young, I focused on dressing and decorating the house. Now as a grandparent I like to attend carol services and enjoy the beauty of gospel music. I also make it a point to visit families who have lost their dear ones. This year I am with my students who lost their parents. This kind of celebration is more meaningful to me.
The period of Advent starting from the fourth Sunday before Christmas symbolises the preparation time for Jesus to descend on earth. Traditionally, Catholics light a candle on all four Sundays and on the last Sunday, a large white candle is lit to symbolize the arrival of Christ. “We also light a candle with blue ribbon in front of Mary’s statue or photo that represents her.
Children in the household are engaged in filling the wooden box (manger) with hay and ready it for infant Jesus. The whole scene of nativity and the Christmas tree are set up slowly in the period of advent. Those days, as children we used to draw figures of Mother Mary, Joseph and the shepherds on a cardboard, cut them out and colour them to be displayed in the nativity scene. All members in the family used to bake cakes which will start five days before Christmas. But these days, we buy cakes from shops for convenience.
Since, Christmas is an occasion to share love and joy, we visit friends and families to distribute goodies and cakes and also invite friends for Christmas feast.
(With inputs from T. Saravanan and A. Shrikumar)