Our memory of childhood traditions is what makes holidays so special. A unique ornament or the heady aroma of baking spices or the sound of laughter can evoke joy and poignant reminders of our past.
Growing up in India we celebrated a variety of holidays: Kerala New Year (Vishu), Harvest Festival (Onam) and Festival of Lights (Deepavali), but Christmas was not one of them. However, thanks to our neighbors my family experienced the warmth of this special day.
It was the late 1970s and we were living in the hilltop town of Coonoor in the beautiful Nilgiris or Blue Mountains of south India. Our neighbors were Christian and invited us to attend a Christmas Eve mass at the local church. At first we were a little reluctant to celebrate a holiday in a church, a place we normally just passed on our way to school. As Hindus would this be an appropriate thing to do?
After a bit of thought, my mother had the answer. She held up her right hand and spread out her fingers.
“Pretend each finger represents a religion,” she said “The thumb is Hinduism; the pointing finger is Christianity and so on. Each finger is part of the whole, the hand. Just like the fingers are united by the hand and merge into the wrist, I believe in the end all religions come together to become part of the supreme source.”
She added, “That’s why fighting about religion never made sense to me.”
So we accepted our neighbors’ invitation to the Christmas Eve celebration. The warm glow of candles, the scent of burning incense and the sound of Christmas carols (sung in the local language) became a part of an unforgettable experience for us. Later, our neighbors shared a plate of holiday cookies. Christmas that day tasted of nutmeg-spiked crackers, fruit cake cookies with candied lemon peel and the unique Kerala rose cookies or achappams. My sister and I savored the different and exotic flavors as the church bells rang.
My taste buds and heart still sing when I think of those long ago memories. Some things you never forget.
Wishing you all a holiday season filled with unforgettable memories! See you all in 2020 with exciting publishing news.