Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Christmas Then and Now

Was reading a few blogs and looking at pictures and reports on Christmas – in Dubai, New York, Florida, in the giant metros and in small cities, towns and rural areas too in Kerala. And my mind slid back to sixties and seventies - - -

My earliest memories did not involve Xmas shopping, ‘cos I was a kid. Shopping must have been there, but the instant ready to use items, I’m sure were not there. Not just us children, but those of all age group got involved inn making the pulkoodu (Crib). I still remember a day before Christmas. My father in a Jubba, with his hand on his hip discussing with Mathai who was employed in his office across the street, about the ideal spot for the crib (and mind you, my father was a very busy business man!). I remember anxiously waiting to see if the spot I preferred would be decided on. It wasn’t, and then the six year old me threw tantrums. I was given a hearing and Ichayan (that’s what we called my father) agreed there’s a lot of sense in what I said – on the narrow veranda it was to be. It faced the front compound which could be accessed by a small flight of steps. It would look like the crib is on top of a hill, I said excitedly (am not sure now if the manger where Christ was born was on top of a hill). Yes, the hill effect could be easily achieved if the crib was where I wanted it, agreed my father enthusiastically. Mathai also agreed. And my day was made.

Every bit of item for the crib was gathered by my brothers and I. Some supervised, some moved in an out of the house, in the compound and the adjacent vacant plot getting bits and pieces to put the crib together . I still remember Mathai telling us siblings that if he could cover the superstructure we had built up with brown paper which could be crumpled to get that crushed effect, that’d make it look like a mountain. Some paint was remaining from the maintenance that was done in the house a couple of months back. It could be used to touch up the brown paper to improve the effect. It meant a lot of brown paper, and a lot of money.

“Mollykochey”, suggested Mathai. “You ask Ichayan. He will agree”.

I do not know if I was the favourite, but I remember I was not scared to ask him. He readily agreed, took out a note and gave me.

There was jubilations when I ran back with the money.

It was a great crib that year! Grass was uprooted from the vacant plot and arranged at the bottom of the step to create an impression of a green valley. There was even a lake in front of the crib, at the foot of the mountain, in the middle of the grassland! Mathai dug a shallow hole on the sand, placed a basin in it poured water into it and even put a few live fish into it.(I do not know if there was even a puddle in Bethlehem! But that did not matter).

In the kitchen, amma would be making cake in bulk. Yes, really bulk. Baking was done in the most primitive manner. The small oven which could be kept over the aduuppu (firewood stove) was inadequate. So a temporary firewood stove was made in the backyard, and a huge bell metal vessel (chembu) was kept over this make shift aduppu. It was filled with sand which took a long time to get hot. My brother who was closest to me in age, and I used make occasional inspection of this outdoor oven to see if the sand was hot enough for the cake mix to be arranged in the many dishes it was already poured into. Amma kept a hawk eye on us to make sure we didn't land up in the oven.

Regarding the wine, amma would have bottled it a week before Christmas.

The spade work for Christmas cooking would start late in the evening. The only thing that used to sadden me was the sight of the chicken and duck that were awaiting slaughter. I remember asking Verghese, our very versatile odd job man and who took over the role of the supervisor on that day if it would hurt them when he cut their heads off. We were shooed off when the actual killing took place.

Of course, I could block out that part of the story of the duck roast which was served with appam for Christmas breakfast.

Every Christmas of those decades has memories for me. In my time too, I have tried to keep that spirit of Christmas in my home. Even today, my crib is a cardboard carton, with some grass from the roadside and a few painted clay figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, three kings and shepherds, a few sheep and cattle and an angel suspended from the hole pierced through the “roof” of the carton.

But the world has moved on, while I continue to wallow in nostalgia. How different things are now! How commodified is that festival now! The malls and shops glitter with optic fibre lights, eco friendly glare, bright colourful and fluorescent decorations. Cakes – you get any variety of them from the shops. And wine too.

Guess I’m an old timer. All these glitter and glare leave me cold.


  1. kpj, all mallus from kerala take pride in the christmas tree that has been bought from florida or new york, their huge houses bought (wonly because of dubai dinar or american dollars ) and many homes lie vacant because they have moved across the sea with a family visa, their cakes are bought from the nearby monginis bake shop, women dressed in kanchipuram sarees and jewellery that would make the other person go bling bling and their little 3 year old girls would also not be spared with the jewllery, just to show that their father is from dubai or america or whereever but KERALA -

    NOBODY wants the real stuff - they prefer a dollar store decoration than the eco friendly natural things that a family can do together.

    home made is looked more with disdain and scoffed at - isn't that what it is today in kerala ?

    i hear that lipton's lemonade and iced tea powders are in demand in kerala and given to impress guests and consumed at home -

    Progressive means Buying and not making ( who has the time , they would ask ?) But they definitely have time to sit passively in front of the TV.

    your nostalgia is still real with many of us who make an effort to do things - because we enjoy doing them.

  2. Gee wish that time machine would be here soon enough. Cant wait to just see what it was like. Really loved the way you wrote that KT!

  3. That was nostalgic indeed!

    thought I would at least do the cake part (apart from the Xmas tree) like my mother but even that activity has been sidelined since plenty of freshly baked cakes are available :) guess the spirit of Xmas has been strangled...

    nd Anrosh.. Keralites always had the wanderlust in them..... maybe because over the centuries they were influenzed by the visiting wanderlusts from other regions.. they are also easily wooed by consumerism and swears by it :)

    but your comment..

    home made is looked more with disdain and scoffed at - isn't that what it is today in kerala ?

    I do not fully agree to it.... the Keralites love their homemade stuff... the difference is that they buy this home made stuff :).. the hotels sell more Tapioca (a stuff which was very common in all households) and fish curry and even the common coconut chutney now adorns the tables of 5 star hotels....

  4. Molly Aunty, This brings back fond memories. The highlight of my Christmas used to be the gathering around the table after midnight mass for the yummy cake and wine :-). BTW, the cake that you'd baked for Christmas was heavenly!!!!

  5. @ anrosh
    these things can't be helped. if kerala cannot offer lvelihood to her people, they have to move. isnt it good that they invest a lot back home to improve their homestate?
    only, this has made the malayalee in kerala lazy sukimaans

    @thanks cris

    @ happy kitten
    yes. you are right. authentic home made have found their wai innto retaile shops and even bakeries.

    @ amala
    yes, memories. especially pleasant ones. i thrive on them.
    thanks. dont ask for recipe. trade secret. Mollyaunty's cake:-)

  6. what a lovely post..took me back in time!! sadly this christmas we had to succumb to the busy lives we have...we actually bought a ready made crib from Palayam..:( something unimaginable for me when we were kids!!


Dear visitors, dont run away without leaving behind something for me :-)
By the way, if your comment does not get posted at the first click, just click once more.