Festive special: Meet non-Catholics who celebrate Christmas
From decking up Christmas trees and gorging on plum cakes to writing letters to Santa Claus, Mumbaikars across faiths and communities are living the Christmas spirit
Singing the Christmas spirit
Roshan Dastoor, 56, has been celebrating Christmas at home ever since she was in school. "I wasn't in a convent but you pick up the festive spirit. Parsis celebrate all festivals. We get cake and wine and sing carols. My 26-year-old daughter loves to decorate the house and we usually have a 'Merry Christmas' sign too. She bakes brownies and cupcakes. I have a CD full of carols, which I take to office and play on low volume.
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Roshan Dastoor (fifth from right) at a Paranjoti Choir recital in Bangalore
I have also been part of the Paranjoti choir for many years. Performing at concerts during Christmas is a spiritual experience. We finished four concerts in Mumbai. On previous occasions, we had performed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi for the President, during Christmastime, and also in Bangalore and Goa. I live in Marine Lines, where the original Christian population resided; the bright lights and street festivities have, however, moved to the suburbs."
– Roshan Dastoor, financial professional, Marine Lines resident
Celebrating with grandma
Jehanin Pajnigar has the fondest memories of spending Christmas with her grandmother. "When I was little, we used to have a lavish Christmas feast at my grandmom's home. My mom bakes a Christmas cake and we bring in some wine.
I always go visiting close friends who celebrate Christmas, and sing carols too. Secret Santa is planned in office, so you end up getting presents too."
— Jehanin Pajnigar, media professional, Bandra resident
Dressing for the X'mas ball
Aman Khera is a Punjabi from Baroda and is gearing up for this year's Christmas celebration. "I plan to attend the Ball at Bandra Gymkhana.
While growing up, Christmas was always special for me; we tuck into delicious plum cake, elaborate dinners and even decorate a Christmas tree." She adds, "One of my fondest memories is of dinner parties at a teacher's home on Christmas. He would treat us with ginger ale, among other goodies, which was fantastic."
– Aman Khera, marketing professional, Sion resident
Stockings and letters to Santa
"I have been celebrating Christmas since I was a kid. My mother instilled the tradition in us. Earlier, my cousins would come over, we would bake a pudding cake and write letters to Santa. We had stockings with our names on it, and we'd place letters in them" says Akshita Karuwala.
She recalls how her family would decorate their Christmas tree, and the times when her father would take them across the city to see the decorations at hotels. "We don't get together like before but I make it a point to spend Christmas with my mother. I decorate the tree, bake her favourite cookies and keep them out with milk and my stocking. In the morning, I find it stuffed with a present. We also watch a Christmas movie together. I enjoy making a warm drink, like mulled wine or a spiced warm orange drink," she shares.
– Akshita Kariwala, BMM graduate, Cuffe Parade resident
'No religion is superior to others'
"Twenty eight years back, someone mentioned that doing nine Ravivars (Sunday novenas) at Agnel Ashram in Bandra would help fulfill my wish and overcome my troubles. My wish got fulfilled and I have been going there since," says 50-year-old Sandhya Savla. What began as a wish-fulfilling ritual became a regular Sunday visit.
She feels that it is not just the wish fulfillment that draws her to the Ashram but the strengthening of the faith. Savla also began visiting Mount Mary Church as it was nearby, and says, like her, people from all castes and religions visit the church. "I have seen groups of Gujaratis offering charity services at the church," she shares. Do relatives question her visits? "People are surprised. But no god says that his religion is superior to others. With the same faith, I visit Haji Ali Dargah as well," she replies. While Savla finds it difficult to head to Bandra every Sunday, of late, she intends to drop by on Christmas Day, along with her daughter.
— Sandhya Savla, homemaker and bridal consultant, Mulund resident
All about tradition and the tree of joy
"I have been bringing home a Christmas tree for four years. I love decorating it. As children, my sister and I would write notes bearing our wishes, stuff them in stockings and leave them near our beds," recalls Makati.
Upasana Makati adds finishing touches to a Christmas tree that she has been decorating at her Andheri home for four years. Pic/Sameer Markande
She reveals how her mum wasn't aware of this tradition but around eight years ago, she learnt about it from an aunt who came visiting from the US.
"Since then, every year, she keeps a gift under my pillow on Christmas Eve. Last year, too, I found one when I returned home at 1.30 am, after lighting a candle at Mount Mary Church. While I visit the church often, I make it a point to visit it, especially on this day, to see everyone spread festive cheer, and greet each other, 'Merry Christmas', as the clock strikes 12."
– Upasana Makati, publisher of White Print (India's first English lifestyle magazine in Braille), Andheri resident
The two-day Christmas
"I was a part of the choir at boarding school, and memories of practice sessions leading up to Christmas still make me smile," recalls Preeti Nair, Powai resident. She continues, "Back home in Mumbai, I continued attending midnight mass with a friend and her family.
The lovely choir singing through the silent night, the life-sized crib, the sermon — all of it resonated with the Christmas spirit that is festive, yet calming. Often, we'd be a group of friends who would drop by, so celebrations that began post midnight mass, would continue beyond lunch on Christmas day. The spread that my friend's mom would whip up (rum cake, fish curry, prawn pulao, beetroot salad, kulkuls) was something else. When my brother was younger, we would bring home a Christmas tree that he loved to decorate. While that practice has faded, we continue to exchange gifts among family and friends on Christmas."
— Preeti R Nair, corporate lawyer, Powai resident