It is the cold winter of December and I am all excited to welcome my most favorite festive season; Christmas. Like all the other school-going kids, I would heartily wait for Christmas time, as it was the only festive vacation during the academic year that I literally got to sit back and enjoy. For the other two major breaks: Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi there was always some task here and there, set aside for the kids at home. But Christmas was an occasion to chill out and enjoy with friends and neighbors with no burden and worry of elders calling out for your help with the house chores. And that was why I adored the cool and breezy ambiance around Christmas.

And this was not the sole reason to celebrate, as there were definitely many more. On Christmas day, our friends and neighbors would visit us with sweets neatly arranged on a large platter covered with a fancy and beautiful fabric. The plate contained different traditional sweets, candies, cakes, desserts, fresh fruits and pastries of various flavors. But the biggest attraction was the foreign chocolates (as they were called) wrapped in shiny colorful papers. There were many people in the neighborhood that worked on cruise ships and came home during Christmas time. They brought with them many luxuries and gifts from all around the world. Bubble gums, cola chocolates, gummies of unusual shapes, perfumes, shoes, toys  and many more; which were never found here in India. We children just waited for them to arrive, and hoped that they would be generous enough to share a lot of their foreign goodies with us.

We kids would wake up early morning and eagerly wait for our neighbors to arrive. There was a greedy look on our faces each time we saw someone approaching our house. We were ready to pounce on the person if it hadn’t been our granny waiting on the veranda to receive the sweets. Our grandma had a tough time protecting the treasure plate from her mischievous grandchildren.

One Christmas day, as granny was sitting on the veranda waiting to welcome our neighbors, she suddenly recalled something and went inside the house, just then one neighboring aunty arrived. She looked happy as we looked happier to receive her as granny was absent to guard her or protect her plate of sweets. As she carefully stooped to give the plate to me because I was the eldest among the whole bunch of kids, forget about wishing and saying thank you, we just ran with the plate. The platter was now highly unsafe in the little hands of the devil children. And even before I could properly enter the house, all my cousins and brothers pounced on the plate. I was terrorized as I would be left with nothing on the plate. I hurriedly kept the plate on the floor and we all grabbed the sweets. There was a mini brawl. We were pushing and pulling each other. Some of us wrestling and some performing local Kung Fu. We fought for the sweets like some starving kids hungry for days.

By the time granny reached outside, the tidbits were all divided and finished. Granny was so embarrassed in front of the neighbor and the neighbor totally paralyzed with jaw dropped looking at our indecent behavior. Because we were one of the highly respected families in the village, she had no idea that something like this could ever happen. The elders then took turns to remain on the veranda to safeguard our dignity and at the same time protect the neighbor’s plate and the neighbor from the indecent kids of the house.

The night before Christmas was fun. Santa Claus would visit our house laughing and dancing with his big bag full of sweets and gifts. Many children and elders would accompany him singing carols and holding beautiful lightened lanterns in their hands. The soft mellow light from the colorful lanterns emitted warmth in the biting cold of the December night.

 Then late evening, we would stay awake to see people going to the church for the midnight mass. They would go walking in large groups nicely dressed up to celebrate the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ.

Each house was decked up in lights, with a shining star hung up at the entrance and a small crib at the front door. It was always heartwarming to see Jesus Christ in the crib with his parents. The cows and sheep keeping him warm. I often felt that the baby must be feeling cold and always felt like covering him with a blanket. Next to the crib were the statutes of the three kings who brought presents for him. I would always wonder what might be inside those boxes which they were carrying.

Most Hindu families took part in the celebration with a lot of enthusiasm. There was a lot of harmony among the Goan Hindus and the Christian community. During Portuguese rule, people in Goa were forcibly converted to Christianity, and so people knew their roots hence there was brotherhood in the society. People loved each other and I am proud to say that the affection is still intact.

But now the sweets are few. With many neighbors flying off to foreign lands in search of jobs with their families; the neighborhood looks deserted. The big houses remain there abandoned. Though many buildings have cropped up with a lot of people from other states settling here. The authentic Goa and the Goans seem to be lost.  Those big empty houses whose design gives you the feel of the Portuguese architecture are either being sold off or rented as hotels or sometimes they are so neglected that snakes and other animals are residing in them. It is heart-wrenching to see that. The once ever-vibrant neighborhood of my ancestral house is now never lighted up as before.

But there is a hope; my dear Goan brothers and sisters who left this land for a better future for them and their family will be one day back with us in their very own land.

And as my grandmother would be sitting to guard those lavishly decorated plates of sweets; one day I will be guarding my grandchildren sitting there in the veranda of my home.

This Christmas, as I remember my old friends and the good time we spent together,

                                  My heart calls out to them…..Come Back

image credit: Bluart Papelaria-Pixabay