Christmas Memories

Iris C F Gomes

Jim Reeves crooned about Christmas and reminiscing and how right he still is. Christmas always has that special magic, that touch of nostalgia that tugs at the heart- strings and the warm sensation that everything is all right with the world no matter the burdens you have been weighed down with the entire year- long.

In the past, Christmas in Goa certainly did not resemble the Yuletide scenes depicted on greeting cards. Modern Christmas tableau is closer to the western conception of Christmas. The glittering tinsel adorning artificial fir trees, glitzy lights, Christmas dances galore; Christ has definitely been moved out of Christmas, with ostentatious commercialism usurping his position. The simple, meaningful Christmases of yesteryear are but a note in history.

Edna Noronha, a grandmother, shares her Christmas memories prior to 1958, when Goa was literally in the dark with the absence of electricity. The necessary star that signalled Christ’s presence to the Magi was fashioned out of whatever was at hand. Usually it would be bamboos with white paper as shops did not purvey the assortment of items we can avail in these times. The only option sometimes would be to use the silver paper from cigarette packs or decorative chocolate wrappers to embellish the star. Instead of bulbs, the stars shone with candlelight.

The older folks would wear a ‘Thorop’, a feast dress with pleats and shimmering material in the front. They would have long necklaces adorning their necks and a white vestment called ‘Hol’ draped around them so only their hands could be seen. Their shoes had the front of the foot covered while the hind portion was exposed. The covered portion was embroidered, acting as an ideal accessory to the outfit, which was normally the staple feature of the upper caste wardrobe. Other women would wear saris, the youngsters mainly dressed in western apparel while the men had their suits on. Dressed in this manner, they would make their way with candles and torches to attend Mid-night Mass. Mrs Noronha recalls, ‘The women carried little “Bankins”, vividly painted stools on which they seated themselves during the course of the mass, as the church did not have an adequate quantity of pews.’

The Christmas feast included sorpotel, roast pigling, sannas and other items that would tease your palate. Christmas sweets featured neureos, gons, bebinca, dodol, audes, etc. Audes in particular, were essentially a part of every Christmas spread, even if the family was in mourning, because, as Edna says, ‘You definitely needed to cook something for Christmas (Telam kitem galunkuch zhai).’

Christmas is also a time of hope, an anticipation of a better tomorrow. So it happened with Ivy Cabral of Nagoa. She remembers the Christmas her family was going through hard times, as a result of her husband’s accident and a slow start to their first business venture. There was some amount of anxiety in the matter of the christening of her youngest son let alone the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. When all was presumed to be lost, an angel appeared in the guise of a man, who had previously been given monetary backing by her husband. He returned what was then considered a princely sum of Rs 10,000. She happily recalls the increase of her faith as a consequence. She says, ‘Christmas is a time of faith, of building trust in God.’

Christmas serenading is an integral part of the festive season. Chirpy youngsters regale the young and the old with age-old carols. As Mary D’Costa of Cansaulim, now a mother of three strapping young men, says, ‘We went around as children with the ardent desire to fire up the Christmas spirit.’ On one occasion, the childlike enthusiasm of the group of carollers was evident in the volume they had adopted in rendering the songs. Although those hard of hearing might have been entertained by the season fuelled gusto, there were others who held a different view. On one occasion, they happened to be singing at a climactic pitch for all to hear. She remembers with a smile, ‘The old folks of the house were thoroughly enjoying the very loud rendition when their daughter-in-law appeared and berated us for what she called caterwauling, which she said had disturbed her beauty sleep. Looking back now, it was rather hilarious even though we were quite embarrassed at the time.’

There are two activities, Kiran Bhandhari, teacher at Shantadurga High School, Sancoale, and an active member of The Mustard Seed Art Company, remembers about Christmas. He relives the tasty memories of the sweets they received from all corners of the neighbourhood, the mouth-watering dodol and bebinca… ‘We eagerly waited for these delicacies. We first attacked the quota of these particular sweets and then helped ourselves to the remaining neureos, fruit cake, bolinhos, etc. during breakfast or with evening tea.’

The second memorable activity was the weekly celebration at the church: it was filled with games for children, entertainment programmes of dance, one act plays, and groups from all the wadde merrily singing carols. There were competitions of making Christmas stars and the crib. He exclaims with glee, ‘Oh! What fun! In the evening, our dad used to try to discipline us, since we forgot all about bathing, eating or studying.  Yet we waited for the movie, which was shown on a very big screen on the last day of that glorious week. Ha! December was our month!’

For Ra-ben Almeida, his most memorable Christmases were between the ages of 8 to 12. This was the occasion when he and his three siblings were given permission to roast a pigling. 'Each one of us pitched in. This was carried out in the open air, over charcoal. We used to be so excited about the whole thing,' he shares, 'Then we would sit down to the meal in our best clothes, feeling like royalty.'

The wonderful memories shared make you stop and think – Christmas certainly brings a whole new perspective to life. And if you have been feeling low despite this jolly season, there is no doubt, these stories will help you delve into your past and bring forth some special Christmas memories of your own to cheer you up.