A kind of Christmas

- Shreya Sharma, Kathmandu

Dec 25, 2015-

It’s that time of the year. As the temperatures drop, the days get shorter and the grey winter sets in, Christmas has once again come knocking on our doors with colours of red and green brightening the wintry hues. Walking down the otherwise wide and busy business streets of Kupondole, to and from work, feels rather unusual; it has a different appeal now. The shops are decorated with all things Christmas—ornaments on trees, wreaths and garlands on the doors, paper snowflakes and bright string lights hanging from the walls, and figurines of Saint Nicholas among others—if you have seen stores like Dhukuti of late, you know exactly what I mean. Christmas is in the cold, chilly air.

Being a mere spectator observing these celebrations from the sidelines, the festively decorated windows instigate in me either a casual glance or an indifferent smile. My idea of Christmas comes from watching movies like Home Alone and Love Actually over the winter and that one episode of New Girl, the one with one too many Christmas lights. It's rather understandable that I, like so many others, have formed a commercial image of the festival, one to indulge in material things. But these decorations and trinkets, however small facet they represent, do remind some among us about the approaching festivities, about the occasion to spend time with near ones and following family traditions.

For Saral Israel Shrestha the festival's charm lies in the “new warm socks, scarves and woollen topis as presents”. As we look closer to home, we find that a Nepali Christmas doesn't revolve around Santa Claus, Santa hats and Christmas trees but around the ease of being with the people that you love, with family and friends exchanging gifts, not expensive but thoughtful.

Christmas also comes as an occasion to relive familiar memories, memories that come alive with little triggers—sights, sounds, tastes and smells. Like how Samip Shrestha pictures, “baby Jesus, mother Mary, and Joseph in a cow shed with stars twinkling in the night sky” when someone says Christmas; or Saral's Christmas family dinner of pulau with chicken masu and lapsiko achar; or as the singer, songwriter Rohit John Chettri puts it, Nepali dal bhat “without the turkey”. And turkey or no turkey, cakes or not, these recollections come as an excuse to bring friends and families together.

Christmas in Nepal is becoming more than just a family celebration. As churches organise Christmas events, the joy of Christmas is shared among a larger community. Samip's church organises the largest Christmas gathering every year at St. Xavier's where dance and dramas are performed. These celebrations continue for weeks and there is a tradition to go to fellow Christians' homes and sing hymns, which, Samip says, “is a lot like Deusi-Bhailo in Tihar”.

However, there are others for whom Santa and snowflakes mean a whole lot more, for people who have found a home away from home in Nepal. To them, these trigger memories of their childhood, of being with their families, of a festival they hold dear to their hearts. Kyle Lavelle's Christmas back home was about the snow, the twinkling lights and the colourful decorations leading up to the day. 

“A big feast that would start at lunch and turn into dinner,” says Briony Mercuri, who came to Nepal from Australia over a year ago. So, seeing the decorations around town fuels the engines of geographic nostalgia with pangs of home-sickness, but as anywhere in the world, the essence of Christmas is more than mere decorations, it is about people coming together. 

Briony knew she would be away from home on Christmas but she says, “The guesthouse I was staying at put on a Nepali feast”.  And this year, she says she is going to surround herself with people that she cares about. Kyle, on the other hand, plans to have dal bhat with friends watching Elf next to a tiny Christmas tree he tracked down and trying to stay warm, despite the lack of fuel.  Christmas in Nepal may not have a lot of things they have back home, and it will certainly be different. But since Christmas is as much about creating new memories as reliving old ones, they are looking forward to it all the same. 

Ways to celebrate Christmas are certainly different for different people. But Christmas never fails to evoke feelings of joy and delight in people because, as all festivities go, it is about upholding the tradition of togetherness, be it with families or friends, in one's own country or somewhere far away. As different people come together to celebrate, it dissolves the boundaries of religions and nations. In the words of Rohit, “Christmas comes in December as a way to wrap up the good times gone by and brings with it the hopes for happiness and prosperity, of an even better year”. 

Published: 25-12-2015 15:41

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