Back when we were kids, my brother and I regularly celebrated Christmas hosted within the cantonment. Our father worked with the Indian Air Force and come Christmas, we would invariably meet with a jolly Indian Santa, often arriving on an IAF helicopter. Candies would be thrown out and gifts pre-purchased by our parents would be handed out to us by Santa, as if it were Santa himself who had arrived with the presents.
We grew up and grew out of Christmas. In any case, if you are a non-Christian living in India, you are not likely to see much of Christmas. And then we moved to Canada this year. Days after Halloween, we started seeing Christmas lights and decorations going up. It was only October! But it didn’t matter. It was as if people had only been waiting to put away their Halloween costumes.
As the weeks rolled by, we saw Christmas trees go up, blown up Santas appear outside houses, pretty ornaments glitter through windows, strings of lights go up on buildings, innumerable gifts and chocolates appear in stores and we couldn’t help but feel pulled into it all. Some people say that they don’t celebrate Christmas in Canada, but as I see it, there is no way you can live here and not be touched by the festivities. They are everywhere!
We decided to plunge ourselves whole-heartedly into Canada’s enthusiasm for Christmas and we ended up doing five things that made the festival very, very special for us.
“You cannot celebrate Christmas without having a tree!” So I declared to my hubby and God bless him, he went along with my zeal. “It has to be pre-lit,” he said. “It has to be at least 7 feet tall,” I added. The first week of December rolled in and our tree arrived. Our toddler went nuts. He’d only seen trees at other places and now his very own tree had arrived.
My husband claims I was even more excited than the two year old! I loved every bit of it. Putting up the tree, turning on the lights, shopping for and hanging up ornaments, crafting a few ornaments with my son at home and hanging those up as well. I finally placed a cute little Santa at the base of our tree and every single day, this December, I have found time to sit next to our tree and soak in the happiness it exudes.
Now that we had a Christmas tree, I had to put presents under it! I wanted to see my baby opening his presents Christmas morning and I wanted to give presents to the special people around us who have made Canada home for us. So far I had been watching people shop for presents. Now I was one of them.
I browsed shelves in countless stores, spent hours checking things out online and tried to catch Christmas deals before they ran out. This, when I had just a few people to prepare presents for. No wonder people here typically start Christmas shopping a couple of months in advance! If you’re celebrating with your entire extended family, you’re bound to need a couple of hundred gifts!
In the final days before Christmas, everyone was in vacation-mood. Our workplaces were winding down for the holidays and before we fall right back into the rut of our lives in January, we decided to take an impulsive last-minute holiday. We booked accommodation only a day before we left, filled gas in our mini-van, loaded it up and set off!
It was raining in Montreal and our toddler developed a cough, but Montreal had enough cheer to not let these things dampen our holiday. We roamed the cobbled stone paths of Old Montreal, took shelter in underground markets when the rain got too much, appreciated the breathtaking beauty of the Notre Dame Basilica, drove all the way up the Mont Royal to get a view of the city lights and walked the streets of Downtown Montreal. Not to forget, I clicked a couple of dozen photographs!
Christmas is typically celebrated with one’s extended family and relatives. We were prepared for a lonely Christmas because our families are back in India and everyone here would be busy with their own celebrations. However, as it turned out, our very thoughtful neighbours insisted we join them on Christmas eve.
Thrown in with a white Canadian family and their relatives and close friends, we were surprisingly at home. We played Christmas themed games, drank strawberry punch, opened lots of Christmas presents and added our Indian samosas to their table full of yummy dishes. We returned home with our hearts and stomachs full!
It was as if everything had been building up to Christmas morning. As soon as our toddler opened his eyes in the morning, I asked him, “Would you like to open your presents?” Breakfasts and toothbrushes forgotten, we settled down at the base of our Christmas tree. What fun it was to open every little gift, to watch our boy squeal in delight as he tore off wrapping paper and to exchange gifts with our close friends.
We joined our neighbours once again for a very hearty Christmas brunch at their homes. Blueberry danishes, eggs and bacon, vanilla hazelnut coffee, chocolate covered biscuits… what a way to bring in the cheer!
I may have celebrated Christmas before, but one thing’s for sure. I have never celebrated Christmas like this before. And even now, while I sit in my gifted red soft socks, wearing my new gifted fleece night suit and thinking back to these past few days, I know that I can barely wait for another Christmas to arrive!
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.