War on Christmas: We hear jingle bells, bigots hear alarm

December 20, 2017 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Bihar, December 20, 2017: Growing up in Darbhanga, a small town in Bihar, during the late 1980s and early 1990s meant power cuts had become part of our lives. It meant living in a small colony full of kids of your age with whom you could play with. We rode our bicycles on rough roads which were full of big holes and were always waterlogged during the monsoons. It also meant that there were only a few good schools where middle class parents with their fascination for English-medium education could send their children to.

In most towns and cities of Bihar, the most prestigious schools were the oldest ones, often run by Jesuit missionaries; sisters, fathers and brothers who became part of our lives. It also meant an introduction to Christmas celebrations and the long Christmas break that followed.

Even as the temperature dropped, Christmas meant that the warmth with which everyone treated us suddenly saw a rise. Our teachers sang carols in Hindi and performed re-enactments of the Christ’s birth during the morning school assembly. There was of course, Santa Claus and you were lucky if you received a candy from him. Even if you were unlucky, you ended up with a sweet tooth at the end of the day owing to the generosity of the teachers.

At home, there were plum cakes which my mother used to buy from Christian bakeries and gifts that I made her buy for Christmas. There was happiness, celebration and warmth.

There was and it might come as a surprise to a lot of right-wing folks, no conversion. None of the Hindu students, including me converted to Christianity because we happened to celebrate Christmas. No sir, that happens only in your make-believe world.

These days, all the hullabaloo and hatred for Christmas celebrations and missionary schools on social media is not surprising considering the newly discovered insecurity around our religious identity. What’s surprising is how blatantly people hide their vitriolic hatred in the guise of protecting their religious choices. Anyway, as they say, Christmas is about happiness and we will return to that debate some other point of time. (We have to, there is no other choice).

Coming back to festivities, during my higher education in Patna, Christmas became even bigger part of our lives. As adolescents, it became important because of how central it was to the pop culture we all followed ardently. India was open for business now and pop culture was an essential part of it. MTV and Channel V had opened shops. There was Friends on telly. Our rooms were full of English pop cassettes priced at Rs 75. And hence to be part of the “season”, we bought little Christmas cards where we wrote notes to each other and exchanged small gifts that made us all happy. It was consumerist, of course, but I am not sure that is what Hindutva elements complain about.

In school, our Christmas celebrations had also become more hip. Now, the Hindi carols were replaced by English ones. “Silent nights” made a silent, but forgettable entry into our lives. There was cake and coffee on offer if you visited school on Christmas day. We celebrated it like we celebrated every other festival in school. I remember Holi celebrations when we would come back from school, completely painted in colors. During Diwali, a cracker would go off right in the middle of father principal’s speech. He would get angry but that didn’t change anything. The point is, festivals were about festivity and will always be about that. To make out of them an issue about religious identity, is absolutely unnecessary and somewhat idiotic.

But who am I talking to, right?

The thing is, Christmas, like any other festival celebrates humanity. It celebrates the idea of people coming together and sharing happiness. It encourages people to open their hearts and give generously. The giving can be in the form of kind, cash or just love. It tells us stories of courage and mercy, similar to what most of the Hindu festivals teach us. There is no bigger celebration of humanity than giving and sharing happiness, than being good. I realised that when in Class 11 and had to become Santa Claus and since the principal was a Mr Scrooge, he didn’t give me any candies to distribute. This was perhaps the first time in life I used my pocket money to buy candies for others and, surprisingly, felt happy after I had done it. It’s time the Uncle Scrooges of the world learnt that lesson. It’s time the ghost of Christmas past, present and future visited them and showed them their conscience.

And you dear fanatics, it’s time you gave celebrations and unity a chance, instead of hate. Because whether you like it or not, in this internet age, your kids will grow up to watch Friends and listen to George Michael’s “Last Christmas”, watch Santa selling soda and celebrate Christmas because even you can’t stop capitalism from celebrating capitalism.

– dailyo

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