Monday, March 05, 2018

Festival celebrations

The extended weekend has ended and people will be getting back to work. Though Holi is not a big celebration in Tamilnadu except for small pockets it is not unusual to see people celebrating the festival by playing with colours and looking extremely silly to those who do not celebrate this spring festival.

These days celebrating festivals have taken a new dimension: wake up, since most festivals have a religious angle pay obeisance to the Gods, indulge in the hallmarks of the celebration like making the pongal, bursting crackers, having good food and then these days settle down in front of a TV to watch a block buster movie from one of the many cable television channels that vie with each other for the bigger hit.

Just look back at how we used to celebrate festivals when we were young, I am reaching out to Xennials or the Millenials those born in the ‘80s and the ‘90s. Back then the anticipation for the festival was a large part of the festival itself and the planning would usually precede the festival by few days or weeks. I remember the Christmas celebrations of old very fondly because this festival during school came with the winter holidays and meant a lot of holiday fun.

The celebrations for Christmas usually included the mandatory clothes shopping much earlier since clothes were generally tailored and the tailors would be busy during the holiday season and so the clothes needed to reach the friendly neighborhood tailor in time for the big day. Preparations at home included cleaning and sometimes white washing or painting the house before the decorations went up. For want of fir trees the humble causarina trees were felled and played the role of the Christmas trees. I think this generation has outgrown those trees and are content with tacky plastic ones. The highlight of the decoration will be the crib, the nativity scene which often brought about the competitive juices in many homes trying to make the best crib of the neighborhood as yet.

Christmas shopping therefore would include decorations that needed replacement from earlier years and unlike the present crepe paper in many colours took the pride of place in many homes and the creative ones made fancy designs with the crepe paper streams. Shopping would not be complete without the Christmas greeting cards, the list of people to be greeted would be made and the cards shopped. The cards will be personally written and sent to friends and family in time to reach for Christmas. Most homes would hang the cards that they received from others on a thread as part of their decoration.

Can any festival be complete without food and more importantly the sweets? The sweet making routine usually involved the lady of the house and the children pitching in. If there was a grandmother she would definitely contribute her signature touch to the sweets, the Christmas platter usually had diamond cuts, khal khals, rose cookies, murukkkus, adhirasams, laddoos and more. They were the type of sweets that had a longer shelf life and were made few days earlier and stocked in large bins for the big day. The ladies of the house sit together and spend many hours carefully and painstakingly making the sweets for everyone often helped by the children. The helpful children usually got the broken pieces and the scraps that were not good enough to go on trays on Christmas. Those who had an Anglo Indian connection also added plum cakes and wine to their repertoire.

Christmas day was usually preceded by the Midnight mass and the family in their Christmas best will go for the mass and then exchange wishes to everyone. Christmas morning is a very busy day. Telephone calls are made to wish those far and near and once the breakfast is completed the important task of distribution begins. Trays of the home made sweets are carefully laid out and the visits to the friends and relatives begin. Many homes are visited and wishes exchanged and all lead to the grand lunch. Lunch is a wonderful affair with many homes welcoming visitors and friends to share the Christmas lunch. The evening usually winds down with spending time with the friends and family often sampling the home made sweets and the sweets that come from others. Those were the days.

Today clothes are ready made, sweets are often store bought, wishes are cold & impersonal on Whatsapp, and festival celebrations are reduced to impersonal activities missing out the biggest part of any celebration. Every festival that we have is an occasion to meet and greet people, repair broken relationships, reconnect with lost contacts, make new friends, spend time with family and friends.  We have forgotten that it is people who made the celebrations and not the clothes or the decorations, the moments that we spent with our loved ones we treasure for a long time and the reason why we have festivals. That is probably why the wise men of Tamilnadu ensured that the Pongal festivities ended with going out and meeting people and celebrating together.

For the next festival, go out and meet people, bake a cake at home and eat it with friends and family, call and wish people, send some hand-made cards, switch off the TV, play board games with family, make beautiful memories and have a great time. That’s why we have so many festivals.

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