Frank Sinatra is crooning 'Walking in the winter wonderland' in healthy competition with the whirring of the ceiling fans, gangs of barking dogs outside, the simultaneous chatter of mum, dad, children, us and whoever else breezes in and out. The weather is mild this time of year in Mumbai. 25℃ and pleasant, as the Mumbaikars are wont to say. The familiar, humidity enhanced, plasticky smell of the Christmas tree still in it's box mingles with the spicy Sorpatel wafting in as it simmers with contained fury on the fire. It's aging process underway. Frank Sinatra, completely in his element, proceeds to 'Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow'. Someone turns the volume up a notch. In a little while the tree will be assembled and the kids will be encouraged to decorate it and then get praised for what looks like a wind blown jumble of confused ornaments, all suspended around the same height and centered on one side of the tree. Giving it the unfortunate effect of one, flat dimension. All through the season it will stay like that, in respectful appreciation of the kids efforts. My mum will fiercely defend the arrangement against changes. Improvements are hastily un-improved to restore the original chaos. Later that night, Christmas will be ushered in with another couple thousand people at an open-air mass at midnight. It's a riot of colours and fashion and music, this mass. Vibrant, brocaded Sarees, tailor made dresses, children proud in shiny new Christmas clothes. The choir churns out impressively multi-linguistic carols in notoriously unmindful falsetto. Not only English and regional Indian languages, but also the German 'O Tannenbaum', mutilated beyond recognition! After mass, as tradition has it, my dear mum with her big Bambi eyes, will land me with a giant ball of crumpled gift paper and her 20 something gifts for grandchildren, children, husband, neighbour, friends, 44th cousin, dogs, etc., that elf-me toils the night away at. Mumbai is apparently Santa's last stop. Christmas morning is greeted with the ginormous hound, i.e house pet, feeding on some of the freshly wrapped pressies. It will go unnoticed, my mum is at her regally radiant best this morning, everyone is as happy as can be.
This is Christmas as I know and love it.
It will be traded in this year for Christmas with the charms of Europe. No deviously implausible scheme to flee it this time. Christmas preparations commenced at our European home in November to mitigate bouts of homesickness early on. There will be a real tree (steeling myself and kids for it's inevitable cremation afterwards), the romantic smell of pine, Frank Sinatra without competition, gambles over a white Christmas or no white Christmas, the real 'Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht' to a candle lit church gathering at an earthly hour of 04:00 in the afternoon. A quiet Christmas. This is a Christmas that I know now too, a kind I have learned to love.
Santa has just stopped by and headed on. I wonder....which elf will help with the heap of gifts in Mumbai tonight?