Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas in India

Thanks to all for your happy Christmas wishes. I had a great holiday here in India. I missed things, of course (like family and the Messiah sing-a-long and Grandma's chocolate mint brownies [that I would have eaten this year since I'm not vegan anymore!!!]), but I think this will truly go down as one of my best Christmases. It was refreshingly uncommercial (except for the creepy skinny Santa in a pale-faced mask at the bank), and, as it is not widely observed here, everyone that did celebrate Christmas seemed to do so with a closer eye on the true significance of the holiday. I participated in a hilarious Christmas program at church, went to midnight mass at an Anglican church, spent time with friends, and was fed more food than I have ever eaten in a 24 hour period. I think I'll have South Indian food every Christmas from now on to remind me of the hospitality and generosity I was shown by the wonderful people here. (Mom, I know you always have tamales on Christmas; can we have tamales AND masala dosa next year?)

I know I have a pretty mixed audience on this blog, but I'm hoping you'll indulge me in a bit of reflection about what being in India for Christmas meant to me spiritually. You can skip to the pictures if you're not interested.

I've always loved the Biblical Nativity story but somehow being in a poor, dusty, hot country on Christmas gave me a new appreciation for some of the details of the story. For example, did you know it is 97 km (60 miles) from Nazareth to Bethlehem - the distance that Joseph and Mary traveled to pay taxes in the final stages of Mary's pregnancy? To take a BUS on the rocky, dusty, buggy roads here can be uncomfortable; I can't imagine what it would have been like on foot or by animal on the primitive roads that existed two thousand years ago. And speaking of animals? They stink. A lot. The whole city smells awful, partly because there are cows (and dogs and goats and chickens and cats and camels and enormous rats) roaming around as they please, pooping wherever they feel like it. To give birth among a bunch of them and their poop? Gross. By the way, living in a place with breathtaking economic inequalities, it's easy to observe that money makes things happen. If you can pay you can get what you want because people with less money than you will get it for you. That Joseph and Mary were relegated to a stable speaks not ONLY to the fact that there was no room in the inn, but also that they were poor. If they had had enough money, they could have gotten whatever they needed. That's just the way it works when some people have money and some people don't. Lastly, I was walking home at dusk one night last week and observed a number of destitute families leaving the construction sites at which they work as day laborers, headed for the makeshift shacks along the side of the road in which they sleep at night. Whole families were in transit, weary moms clutching babies, old men and women carrying heavy tools, filthy children (their dirty faces belying the fact that they were not in school but shoveling sand all day), and men that looked like they were too tired to take another step. The thought hit me that these families - poor, dark-skinned, tired, shuffled from place to place - probably look a lot like Joseph & Mary's young family looked, on the run in the Middle East for some number of years with at least one small child in tow. Anyway, it was interesting to have a new look at a story that tends to get sanitized, whether through religious idealism or irreligious disinterest in the origins of the holiday.

Okay, that's enough pontificating for now. Here are some photos of our Christmas program.

This is Elder Janga, as Jesus, and Bobby (in my bathrobe), as the callous sinner who rejects the message that the shepherds offer and then, after having been blinded in a horrible accident, meets Jesus thirty years later, repents and is healed. What, you don't remember that part of the Bible? That's probably because they added it. Anyway, it seems like the TYPE of thing Jesus would do, right? :)

None of my pictures from that night turned out very well, so excuse the poor quality, but this is Aishwarya, an 11-year old girl whose family I joined for dinner #1 on Christmas Day.

These people are roughly my age; here they are performing a little "lessons & carols" (I was at the piano). From left to right is Deepa, Saritha, Chennaswami, Mega, Prebhu, Manuel, Charles, and Pinto.

I cannot get over how beautiful Indian people are. These teenaged girls sang a couple of Christmas songs during the program. (I teach piano lessons to the one on the right, Subashini.)


Marcene said...

Somehow it didn't occur to me that you would be spending Christmas in India. I saw your family when they visited the home ward and now I wish I had sent out a christmas card to you as I had intended. So forgive me! I'm glad you had a wonderful holiday and your post was beautiful.I've always said that I hope God blessed Mary with a pain free birth after all she had already gone through...birth in a stall...what a nightmare!

Alicia said...

The creepy skinny santa in the pale-face costume! YES!!! So scary! Joyeeta's wedding was Christmas Eve, so we were out shopping that day. At Pantaloons, this scary skinny pale-face-masked Indian santa tried to get us to take these tickets from him. We politely declined, but then he offered them again, so we took them. Turns out they were scratch tickets for prizes. Kristina got a "chocolate hamper" which was a tin full of Cadbury (yum!) and I got 400 rupees to spend in Pantaloons, so I bought a shirt. Ah, Indian Christmas memories... I love your stories!