Christmas Wrapped Beautifully

Come, welcome the party pooper, me! This is my second shock on Christmas, the first being the stunning realization that my dear Santa is not for real. Now for the next shock – Christmas itself is not so Christian after all! Legend has it that Christmas was originally celebrated by Romans as a Pagan festival, dedicated to the Sun God, and symbolizing the victory of light over darkness. It was much later that December 25, came to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ (that too only around 345 AD). Could it get any worse? Yes it could. Apparently, we have no real date of when Jesus was born. Therefore, in most probability, we are celebrating someone’s birthday who doesn’t have his birthday that day! I’m not sure how that matters really though, because anyone would like to have two birthdays in the same year…

But let us not have a “beautiful story ruined”. What matters is that we get a day to take a break from the monotony of the workaholic capitalistic framework. Moreover, we get a day to spread around the “Christmas spirit” of goodwill and cheer and have a day of almost complete happiness. Apart from the religious significance underlying the festival, it will always be important for mankind for we get a whole day full of memories and a feel of almost complete ecstasy. Never mind the next day, when one is fully broke and 10 kgs heavier. Honestly, such things such never should be given much importance anyway.This brings us to the legend that is, perhaps, now accorded more importance than our beloved Jesus himself – Santa Claus! His existence is as much debated, as is Christ’s. Basically, Santa is the evolutionary result of the fusion of two religious personages, St. Nicholas and Christkindlein, the Christ child. It seems that this figure started gaining importance after 1804, when the New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicholas as its patron saint (a revival of the Dutch tradition of Nicholas as the gift-bringer). Since then much has changed. Santa’s image has ranged from tall to elf-like, fat to extremely skinny, spooky to jolly, et all. Now comes the most interesting part. The image of Santa Claus that we have today is actually a creation of Coca Cola. The fat jolly old man is patented for the soft drinks company. 2006 marked the 75th anniversary of the Coca Cola Santa Claus. However, the company hastens to dispel many illusions through its website. The company did not actually invent Santa Claus; it only helped shape the modern image. Santa Claus is not given a red coat because red is the official color of the company but because he wore those clothes much before artist Haddon Sundblom painted him in those colors. Hence the modern, Santa Claus, the symbol of secular Christmas is actually a creation of a soft drink company to bolster its sales during the winter season.

Speaking of the culinary aspect of Christmas, there are many interesting details about the food habits in 19 Century West. Christmas cakes were usually eaten on the eve of Christmas though it was considered unlucky to cut into one before the day dawned (I suspect that was done mainly to keep the impatient kids at bay). Stirring of Christmas puddings held extreme importance with tiny babies also helping out and the unwedded girls’ marriage future dependant on whether or not they made the correct number of stirs. Furthermore, a dumb cake was usually prepared with the initials of the wannabe wives on the cake. Provided there was complete silence, the future partner of the person indicated will appear on the cake and prick her initials. Who knew cakes and puddings could hold so much importance in getting oneself married. The famous red striped Candy Cane was made in the form of “J” to represent, no prizes for guessing, the name of Jesus. It also could represent the staff of the “Good Shepard” of mankind. In the current Indian menu, there is much variation. Even though the Christmas menu is roast duck and sometimes pork and mince pies, stew and appams also find a strong presence. There is avial, in other south Indian states, murukku (a fried pretzel made of lentil and rice flour), and athirasam gracing the table alongside the Christmas pudding. Sweets like rose cookies, doughnuts and diamond cuts are usually home made like cookies in the western countries. North India seems to rely heavily on plum cakes and marzipan Santas. North-East takes the cake (forgive the punning) for there, Christmas is a community event. One can imagine the scrumptious feast that would follow.

If anyone feels like taking a break from the usual Christmas carols (yes, even I feel Santa Claus has been ridin’ his sleigh for too long now and we have wished “you” Merry Christmas way to often), include these in your caroling this year.

”All I want For Christmas is you” – Mariah Cary

”Santa Baby”- Madonna

”Christmas at ground zero” – Weird Al

“Jingle Bells”- Skid Row

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – Firehouse

“Jingle Bell Rock” – Nelson

“Santa Claus is coming to town”- Bruce Springstein

“Wonderful Christmastime”- Paul McCartney’s

“Let it Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer” – Relient K

”Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” – Brenda Lee

“Someday At Christmas” – Stevie Wonder

“Merry Axemas” Vol. 1 & 2 – A Steve Vai project

“I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas” – Bon Jovi

”I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – John Melloncamp

”Gabriel’s Message” – Sting.

For those acquainted with South Park, do try your level best to sing “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo”, Cartman’s “O Holy Night”, Mr. Garisson’s “Merry F**king Christmas” and more. Of course, it is at your own risk, someone might just throw you out of the window!There are some truths and myths of Christmas which are wrapped beautifully and hidden from us and we continue to celebrate Christmas faithfully. And, there are some things about rituals and the entire spirit of Christmas, which makes us wrap Christmas so beautifully. Whatever the controversies, I feel secular festivals like Christmas, Diwali and such, are too precious to be banned in the way the Puritans did way back in 1600.

Shravya Jain