The Anglo Indian community remembers nostalgically the traditions of ‘consuaad’ and serenading that are no longer followed

Faith, family, friends and food continue to be the spirit of Christmas celebrations for the Anglo Indians in Kochi. But some traditional customs that once played an important and joyous role have sadly been lost to time.

Ninety-year-old Francis Xavier Gomez remembers the tray full of cakes and traditional sweetmeats that were made at home by his mother and sisters and sent to friends and families living close by. In return came a tray full of homemade goodies. “It was a custom called consuaad, a Portuguese word,” says Francis. This exchange of homemade goodies built a bond between the families. “It was a stylish tray laden with homemade traditional food, covered with lace and sent with a maid to each other’s homes. The maids got baksheesh and would be thrilled. It was a beautiful custom. All the women got busy baking and preparing sweets,” says 78-year-old Marlene Jackson, president of the All India Anglo Indian Association.

Former Customs official Ivan Dcosta, 78, too recalls the times when consuaad was exchanged. He recalls the making of traditional sweets like kalkals, pathigams, figadosi, figaado and bebinca.

“Turkey was rather rare. It was cooked at Easter. It used to be duck for Christmas. Even the duck head was cooked,” says Francis popularly called as Uncle Franco, he being one of the oldest members of the community.

Ivan too does not remember turkey for Xmas but fondly recalls roast pigling. “My uncle Mr. Potter was a ship chandler. He used to send a pigling and a turkey. I don’t remember a turkey but the pigling was roasted with a lime in its mouth. The eldest in the family would carve the meat. Then came the ducks. We used to buy ducks by November; they used to come in flocks. Chicken was not known in Cochin.”

Ivan possesses archival jottings of his great grandfather John Carlos’ Christmas expenses. He says it was a time when expenses increased in every household. “The three staple cakes that were made were coconut, tea and plum. Almond rock was a popular eat, now it is made with cashew nuts.” If food was an important part of the season, prayer was the centre around which all activities took place. “Midnight Mass was the centre of the religious functions. The Advent wreath was a cultural and spiritual tradition. Earlier it was done in homes also but now it is strictly followed in church,” says Marlene. A week before Christmas the crib, tree and stars began appearing. Earlier the stars were made at home by the boys. It was not the five cornered type but more like a lantern.

The Xmas tree was generally a natural one, of pine or a branch of casuarina. Carol singing remains a highlight of Christmas tradition but serenading has totally gone out of the customary rituals.

“Earlier families would go serenading and end the singing with the melodious carol Silent Night. They were served homemade sweets. This is now totally missing,” says Marlene who says that the Christmas of her youth was really a golden, glorious period.

Dances and balls

Memories of all-night long dances and balls abound. Fifty eight-year-old Patricia Dsouza says gleefully that she got a new dress stitched for every dance. “People dressed in their Sunday Best,” remembers Francis while Marlene calls it classy dressing. “Women wore long gowns and men wore black trousers and a white satin duck jacket. Some even wore cummerbund. The dances were the waltzes—ballroom, tango, foxtrot and cha cha,” remembers Marlene adding that children were left at home with the house helps.

Ivan talks about the presence of chucker offs or modern day bouncers at the balls, who would keep an eye on decorum and propriety of the occasion. The ‘spotters’ were men who would watch out for non Anglo Indians in the dance hall and send them out. “Generally these were traditional posts. I remember Agnel Gomez and Johnny Carlos as spotters. Gentlemen had to wear gloves to the dance. During the break they had to curtsey to the lady and ask her for refreshments.”

But all this has changed. Yet the Christmas festivities that exist today, a paler version of its former self, have in no way dipped in spirit and camaraderie, in faith and friendship.