Mrs. Archana shares her memories…
“One of the benefits of growing up in a multicultural and multi-religious place is that festivals or holidays with religious origins become more cultural. The best part about growing up in Bombay – a very diverse city, which is Mumbai now- is that one gets to celebrate so many different holidays and taste a variety of food! From Modak to karanji to phirni to achappam or rose cookie, you get to enjoy a variety of flavors.
When I think of my favorite holiday/festival, Christmas, the first image that comes to my mind is the delicious achappams. I am transported back to the kitchen in our 2-bedroom apartment, where my ammama (paternal grandmother) fires them patiently. She first prepares a smooth and silky batter of rice flour, eggs, sugar, coconut milk, sesame seeds, and salt. Full disclosure – I might be missing a few ingredients! But what I remember most is my ammama patiently dipping the achhapam mold into the batter and then to the hot oil – of course, as an 8-year-old, it looked like magic how the batter from the mold would just smoothly sail into the hot oil. She would then carefully lift it and store it into huge Aluminum storage boxes or dabbas. Nobody could touch that dabba because there was a way to take the appam out of the box without breaking its floral design!
For a long time, we were the only Malayalee Catholic family in our building, and my ammama’s achappams were a huge hit! When I was sent to each home in the apartment to distribute Christmas sweets, people would ask me, “Are there achappams in it?” before even looking at the box of sweets.
The other highlight of Christmas was Christmas Caroling! None of us knew how to hold a tune, but we could sing loud and clear. The two weeks before Christmas, one of the neighborhood uncles, who had some form of physical resemblance to Santa Claus, would be enrolled to dress up as Santa. All the children would then get together and visit the houses in the neighborhood, singing Christmas carols. No barking dogs, running traffic, or children on the street that wanted to pull Santa Claus’s beard would scare us! The joy of it was in the spontaneous nature – we were a rag-tag bunch of children, adults, seniors, completely unrehearsed and not at all in tune – but the joy of it was in the things that made it imperfect! Anytime I hear the song or tune of “Joy to the world….” It’s those moments that flash before my eyes.”
Mrs. Chandani shares her childhood memories of Christmas:
“I was born and brought up in a small town called Mangalore in Karnataka. Growing up in a small town like Mangalore, Christmas celebrations began when we started practicing for Christmas carol singing competitions, star-making competitions, crib making competitions at school and church. Every morning, after the first Sunday of Advent, my dad used to play Christmas carols by Jim Reeves and Boney M. While we prepared for all the competitions and my dad played Christmas carols to set the mood right, my mum bought us bundles of greeting cards. We wished and wrote Christmas greetings to all our relatives and friends and posted them abroad and local. At the same time, we, too, received greeting cards from our relatives and friends. We collected these cards and used them as Christmas décor for our Christmas tree. In my childhood days, ready-made Christmas trees were not available in the market, nor did we get fancy decorations as you get now. We used to go to the beach, cut a branch of the pine tree, and bring it back home. Then, we’d mount it in the garden and decorate it with Christmas greeting cards and lights. We made our own Christmas star. We also soaked moong dal, methi seeds, channa, and wheat to grow microgreens for our crib decoration.
In those days, we went to the main market street to do our Christmas shopping. That’s where we got our lights and Christmas decorations. Everyone got new clothes for Christmas. While we went shopping, my grandmother got busy in the kitchen, very busy indeed! She made kalkals or kydios, cookies, rose cookies and laddoos . She would make dough for kydios/kalkals and gather us, kids, around her. Then she’d give each of us a fork to shape them. We put the dough on the back of the fork and rolled it up to make a shell. My grandmother fried these and coated them with sugar syrup.
Christmas for us was a time to share with friends. So my grandmother packed the homemade sweets and shared them with those who helped us throughout the year. It included the postman, the milkman, the newspaper boy, and everyone else who helped us with small and big errands. On Christmas eve, the children wore new clothes and shared our kuswar, that is, the Christmas sweets, with our neighbours. Later everyone attended the Christmas mass at our parishes. Sharing homemade kuswar with others is one of the happiest memories of Christmas that I cherish. Today I have my own family, and I contemplate the same. Once we finished our mass at our parish, we greeted our neighbors, played housie, danced along with Santa Claus, ate a few rum cakes, and returned home for dinner.
Here’s wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a happy New Year.”