There’s a slight nip in the air at night. The sun blazes in the afternoon, unlike the chilly December winters of a decade or two ago. Rampant deforestation and Goa’s fast-receding green cover have led to unseasonal weather, even a drizzle, days before Christmas. As we search for answers in the skies, perhaps at Christmas, we can look to the Magi’s star, a hope in changing times.
Traditional Christmas in Goa is a season to deck in festive colours and be jolly. As the dust comes off, green holly branches line the doors. These days, Santa Claus is up earlier than before. You see his merry face on shop windows or in cardboard cutouts in the stores. In the 70s, Osler Furtado tells of how hand-crafted paper deco was made at home. No fancy eight-foot Christmas trees that light up at the tips, but cycle trips to the neighbourhood parks to find branches of pine trees for the home. The feast being a family affair, well-assigned tasks for all the members were laid out.
In the Vaz household, in the old days, the joint family of 14 dug their hands in the dough to make marzipan and stock up the Christmas goodies at their widely popular bakery, Mr. Baker in Mapusa and Panjim. “If we were making a kilo of marzipan, 100 grams would be eaten by us on the quiet,” jokes Nenette Vaz, who runs the joint today. She adds, “Back then, we didn’t start too early. We would have fresh stock just before Christmas. In those days, nobody would buy things to take abroad. Now we start early.”
While Irving Berlin’s White Christmas still echoes through many Catholic homes, Goa’s Yuletide celebrations play out today’s warm winter nights. The family troops together for the midnight mass before heading to the numerous Christmas balls across the State.
Christmas Day rolls out a wholesomely laden buffet table of beef vindaloo, chicken xacuti, pork sorpotel, aadmas, and solantulem. Those with a sweet tooth add gons, cormolam, marzipan, and mandares to their plate. With Goa’s multi-cultural culinary influences on display, Christmas sweets share similarities with the Hindu preparations of doce de grao and neureos.
Even 400 years ago, French traveller, Francois Pyrard de Laval, wrote of ‘tables laid with white napery in various streets of the city of Goa and covered with all manner of sugar plums, march panes (marzipans), whereof, everyone buys to give away presents.’
What is Christmas without the spirit of giving a generous consoada (a platter of sweets) to the neighbours? Jnanpith Award-winning author, Damodar Mauzo, a recipient of one such parcel in ‘A Village Christmas’ writes of the “delicious offerings would come his way: dodol (a pudding of rice, jaggery, and coconut), baath (a coconut cake), ghos (tender coconut crusted with sugar.)
Fr Apolinario Cardozo SJ in When Goa Celebrates observes that the sending of the Christmas platter is an inheritance of the Hindu tradition. It was called vojem, a term that means, ‘giving.’
Village serenades spell celebrations for the young and old. Parishes across Goa conduct various Christmas programs that bring the community together. In the countryside, large-sized cribs with sprawling displays and waterfalls with little bridges are star attractions. In the late 70s, Tome Fernandes and his brothers were known for their moveable nativity scene. “We were the first to start the automatic crib in Goa. My brother would fix a single motor to move the statues and mountains in the background. It was about 10 metres long,” he says.
As traditions continue, locals lament the loss of the true spirit of Christmas. Personal involvement has been replaced by modern ready-made conveniences. The whiff of a lucrative business makes selling Christmas in Goa a bigger brand. Some say, ‘it has lost its magic,’ others ‘it’s purely commercial. Perhaps the stars that shine on our doors at night will offer the direction to return to the Babe in the manger. The great Tagore, wrote in his poem, ‘The Child’, ‘The poet strikes his lute and sings out: ‘Victory to Man, the newborn, the ever-living.’
If Goa loves Christmas, it knows how to party into the New Year. . Traditionally, Goans make an old man of old clothes, stuffed with newspapers and hay. At midnight, they light it up as a sign of burning the old and bringing in the new. You will find kids throwing the old man under the car on the highway between two towns of the state and gathering money for the night bonfire by declaring ‘the old man dead!”
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