Sunday, March 23, 2008

Contemporary Christmas in Goa

Contemporary Christmas in Goa

- by Cecil Pinto

That time of the year again. Christmas time.

In addition to the normal early-riser Season's Greetings, strangely enough, I have been getting lots of enquiries from the rest of India, and abroad, on one particular topic. "How is Christmas celebrated in Goa?". Below is an attempt to answer that.

How Goan Catholics celebrate Christmas today.

Holy Mass & Carols: Due to Government restrictions on sound pollution Midnight Masses on Christmas Eve are held at 8 p.m. and get over before 10 p.m. (Rumours are going around that Good Friday is going to be celebrated on Wednesday. Stands to reason, if midnight mass ends before 10 p.m.!). After Mass, in the better parishes, coffee and biscuits are served to the faithful by the industrious looking Parish Council members. Some Carol singing does occur but is normally ruined because the amateur musician accompanying on his synthesizer insists on trying out every tone and effect in his Yamaha PSR memory banks. Nobody plays acoustic instruments anymore. Gerald D'Silva from Mapusa, the last of the guitarists who could play by ear, drowned in Colva at a picnic in October. Starting from the 20th till the 31st of December various local groups go around carol singing. They carry a portable CD player and mime the words.

Dressing Up: All males wear suits for mass. The younger males look quite ridiculous in suits a couple of sizes too big. In a year or so they eventually grow to fill up the suit and by that time it has served then for at least six village feasts, eleven weddings, a funeral and one Feast of Saint Francis Xavier. Goan Catholic females' formal attire is best characterised by the female residents of Agacaim (a village in South-Central Goa). Agacaim females never stitch casual clothes. Formal dresses are stitched for Christmas, St. Lawrence's Feast, Easter, Cousin Brother's Wedding and various smaller feasts - depending on whether they have family members from abroad sending money or not. An Agacaim female's formal dress can best be described as 'zogzogit'. The flashier and louder the material - the better. A formal dress is used for a few feasts and weddings and then is relegated to everyday office wear. Eventually it is used as house dress, a nightie, and finally cut into rags to lift hot hundis from the stove. 'Casual wear', 'home wear' and 'night wear' does not exist in the lexicon of Agacaim females. To a lesser extent the same holds good for most other Goan Catholic females.

Sweets: Traditional sweets such as bebinca, dodol, culculs and neureos are purchased from the local bakeries. Sweet making at home was abandoned in 1976. Nobody has the time. The richer people purchase 'westernised' sweets such as Butter Scotch cakes, Candy and Puddings from the better pastry shops. On Christmas Day itself, a quarter plate with an assortment of local sweets covered by a paper napkin is sent to the immediate neighbours, variously called 'side neighbours', 'front neighbours' and 'back neighbours' (and 'top neighbours' and 'bottom neighbours' in modern apartments) who are on talking terms. Many Goan neighbours have not talked to each other for generations due to either property disputes or pig conflicts. The neighbours reciprocate with a similar offering. The diabetic Gonsalves family from St. Inez has not made or purchased sweets for the last fourteen years. They just take one neighbour's sweets and send it to the other neighbour in their own quarter plate! Nobody is any wiser.

Decorations: Artificial Christmas trees are assembled and 'series' lights strung on balconies. A lit-from-inside star adorns every Catholic house gallery. Most people buy readymade stars. In some parishes star-making competitions are had. Huge stars are made using kitepaper on a metal or bamboo framework. Blaze D'Souza from Benaulim has been winning the village prize since 1995 using the same framework and just changing the kitepaper every year. Some kids make little grottos showing the stable where Christ was born. The more enterprising youngsters, in addition to the standard statuettes, insert any figurines they have at hand. So it is not at all shocking to see He-Man, Barbie, Spiderman, PokeMon and a Jeep (with flashing lights) accompanying the shepherds, camels and three kings.

Greetings: All Goans have e-mail, mobile SMS and phones - so greeting cards are redundant. Everyday in the Classified Adverts under "Misc. For Sale" you will find failed entrepreneurs trying to fob off their card racks and greeting cards on naïve fresh-meat wannabes who want to get into business (locally referred to as 'putting my own'). It is quite normal to receive an e-mail from your ex-classmate, now settled in Canada, which says something like "Hi all, Hope you have a Merry Christmas and Bright New Year 2004! Attached photo is not a blank white page. It's the view from my window. Any window". You will find the same mail has been c.c.ed to everyone in the sender's Address Book which includes 12 people who gave up their Hotmail address 3 years back and 2 people who died last year. Some others will send a nifty PPS file or a link to an e-greeting site where little Christmas Trees and Santas dance to Christmas Carols. Very few people actually bother to spend a few seconds to write a separate e-mail to each person they want to greet.

Celebrations: Christmas "Trees" (kids' parties) are held throughout the season where little children are entertained by semi-drunk and overstuffed Christmas Fathers (there is no Santa Claus in Goa) and underfed 'clowns'. The young adults mostly go to Dine & Dance events held at various outdoor venues. Entry Passes are sold very cheap and even distributed free. But a table and chairs will cost you an arm and a leg. And a leg of chicken will cost you a head and shoulders. Liquor is normally 'sponsored' and hence relatively cheap. Loud live pop music is played through amplifiers, mixers and speakers collectively called 'sound' (eg. Forefront always carries their own 'sound'). The richer people go to horribly expensive theme affairs at Five Star hotels where for about a month's salary you can meet other rich people and see huge 'thermacol' cut-outs of whatever the 'theme' is.

Middle aged and elderly Goans sit at home, put on the Jim Reeves' Christmas Carols cassette, and reminiscence about the good old days.


This article appeared in Herald dated 20th December 2003


(Pictures, courtesy: Rewon Gomes & GWS-Kuwait)

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