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Secularism

Christmas is for Everyone

A Sikh girl recounts what Christmas means to her and how observing Christmas this year means looking for hope in these dark times of strife.

Ishmeet Nagpal 25 Dec 2019

Christmas

Growing up, my parents had one goal- to send their children to the best schools possible, sometimes going out of their middle-class means to accomplish that. My brother and I studied in convent schools as a consequence because they had the best teachers. I remember our parents tried to get us to go to a more elite school once but I ran out of there because all the kids had ‘pagers’ (communication devices used in the 90’s before cellphones arrived).

So, we stayed at the convent school with fellow middle-class students, from the ages of 3 to 16. We attended the Moral Science lectures, we learnt about Jesus, we learnt all the prayers and parables, and we celebrated Christmas as the biggest festival of the year. This tradition continued when I went to study in Manipal University. We would have Secret Santa gift exchanges, sometimes a faculty member would surprise us by dressing up as Santa and distributing sweets, and our Christian friends from the local community in Mangalore would invite us home for a delicious feast.

Christmas was also an elaborate event at all the workplaces I have been with over the years. There would be excel sheets for Secret Santa, Google forms, wish-lists, and the joy of finding your name in the huge pile of gifts in the cafeteria. More than anything, Christmas was a reminder that good things are possible in the world.

Last year my spouse and I took a scooter ride to Mount Mary Church in Bandra, Mumbai, on Christmas Eve. The streets were filled with people in festive clothes- singing, laughing, exchanging gifts, and inviting each other to Christmas parties. As I hummed along Christmas carols, a Sikh woman sitting behind her Hindu partner, celebrating a Christian festival, it was the most normal thing in the world. Celebrating Christmas has never been subject to one’s religion.

The normalcy of syncretic Christmas celebrations in India extends back to the Mughal era when Emperor Akbar was introduced to Christianitythrough the Jesuit missionaries he invited to his court from Goa. Around the same time, there was also a large thriving community of Armenian Christian merchants, jewellers, and bankers living in the Mughal capital of Agra and when the Jesuits expressed a wish to build a church here, Akbar obliged and donated generously for a chapel which is still known as Akbar’s Church. Christian influence found its way into paintings and Sufi literature of the era. Christmas themed artwork had been found in the Mughal court as well.

For the Christian community in India, this year’s celebrations are sombre at best in light of the Anti-CAA/NRC protests and ensuing police brutality across the country. Navin W Noronha, a comedian who runs the ‘Keeping it Queer’ Podcast says, “It's going to be a sad Christmas. My partner and I decided not to decorate the house. We'll be doing lunch with my family, who are also not decorating their homes or making a big celebration party this year. It's simple- if people can't pray in their mosques (referring to police entering mosque in Jamia, Delhi), I don’t see how it's okay to go on acting like everything is okay.”

Everything is not okay, and this year, as I ride to Mount Mary Church on Christmas eve, I know that I will see many of the samefaces on the streets in forthcoming protests. The Christmas spirit will give us strength, hugs will be exchanged, healing will be gifted, and the singing of Christmas carols will light us up with warmth.As we wish each other on Christmas this year, maybe the gift of peace is all we need to believe that good things are possible in the world.

Christmas is for Everyone

A Sikh girl recounts what Christmas means to her and how observing Christmas this year means looking for hope in these dark times of strife.

Christmas

Growing up, my parents had one goal- to send their children to the best schools possible, sometimes going out of their middle-class means to accomplish that. My brother and I studied in convent schools as a consequence because they had the best teachers. I remember our parents tried to get us to go to a more elite school once but I ran out of there because all the kids had ‘pagers’ (communication devices used in the 90’s before cellphones arrived).

So, we stayed at the convent school with fellow middle-class students, from the ages of 3 to 16. We attended the Moral Science lectures, we learnt about Jesus, we learnt all the prayers and parables, and we celebrated Christmas as the biggest festival of the year. This tradition continued when I went to study in Manipal University. We would have Secret Santa gift exchanges, sometimes a faculty member would surprise us by dressing up as Santa and distributing sweets, and our Christian friends from the local community in Mangalore would invite us home for a delicious feast.

Christmas was also an elaborate event at all the workplaces I have been with over the years. There would be excel sheets for Secret Santa, Google forms, wish-lists, and the joy of finding your name in the huge pile of gifts in the cafeteria. More than anything, Christmas was a reminder that good things are possible in the world.

Last year my spouse and I took a scooter ride to Mount Mary Church in Bandra, Mumbai, on Christmas Eve. The streets were filled with people in festive clothes- singing, laughing, exchanging gifts, and inviting each other to Christmas parties. As I hummed along Christmas carols, a Sikh woman sitting behind her Hindu partner, celebrating a Christian festival, it was the most normal thing in the world. Celebrating Christmas has never been subject to one’s religion.

The normalcy of syncretic Christmas celebrations in India extends back to the Mughal era when Emperor Akbar was introduced to Christianitythrough the Jesuit missionaries he invited to his court from Goa. Around the same time, there was also a large thriving community of Armenian Christian merchants, jewellers, and bankers living in the Mughal capital of Agra and when the Jesuits expressed a wish to build a church here, Akbar obliged and donated generously for a chapel which is still known as Akbar’s Church. Christian influence found its way into paintings and Sufi literature of the era. Christmas themed artwork had been found in the Mughal court as well.

For the Christian community in India, this year’s celebrations are sombre at best in light of the Anti-CAA/NRC protests and ensuing police brutality across the country. Navin W Noronha, a comedian who runs the ‘Keeping it Queer’ Podcast says, “It's going to be a sad Christmas. My partner and I decided not to decorate the house. We'll be doing lunch with my family, who are also not decorating their homes or making a big celebration party this year. It's simple- if people can't pray in their mosques (referring to police entering mosque in Jamia, Delhi), I don’t see how it's okay to go on acting like everything is okay.”

Everything is not okay, and this year, as I ride to Mount Mary Church on Christmas eve, I know that I will see many of the samefaces on the streets in forthcoming protests. The Christmas spirit will give us strength, hugs will be exchanged, healing will be gifted, and the singing of Christmas carols will light us up with warmth.As we wish each other on Christmas this year, maybe the gift of peace is all we need to believe that good things are possible in the world.

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