Christmas: A time for tradition, a time for family

T-Mag Wednesday 18/December/2019 13:23 PM
By: Times News Service
Christmas: A time for tradition, a time for family

When it comes to Christmas, you know the spirit of the festival is in the air. Truth be told, how could you not? Preparations for the 25th of December begin weeks, if not months in advance, as those who celebrate this joyous occasion happily go about getting ready for Christmas day.

This year, T Weekly spoke to expats in Oman to find out what this festival means to them, and how they celebrate it with their loved ones.

Christmas is a time to spend with family


How did you celebrate Christmas as a child?
I am from Florence in Italy, and growing up, what I enjoyed most was that we meet with family and friends. There is a big lunch, so we would meet maybe 30 people, 40 people, all of them are close to us. We meet our cousins, our nephews and nieces, everyone, so when you are a child and you play with other children, what I remember most is the atmosphere at Christmas.

How do you celebrate Christmas in your home?
We organise a lunch. A few families meet and prepare a huge Christmas lunch. There is of course traditional Christmas food. It varies between one part of Italy and the other, and you can find so many dishes there. The tree is decorated and is surrounded by presents. At midnight, the children are very happy to open these presents. Many people go to pray after dinner, it is normally called midnight mass.
There are many traditions we have. On the 24th of December, we have a dinner celebration, and a Christmas lunch the next day. On Christmas Eve, it is traditional to prepare seafood. Your first course – you have many, starters, first course and second course –for example, would have pasta with seafood. We eat and celebrate together. There is a Christmas tree, and a special celebration for the kids.
The next day, our food is more meat-based, and on this day, it is family who you call home. We start with a dish that is similar to bruschetta, but it contains chicken liver instead of tomato, and is made the traditional way.

You have pasta, lasagna, and a special broth made from tortellini. The tortellini tastes really good because it is handmade. The second course contain traditional boiled beef and boiled chicken, served with homemade sauces. But Christmas would not be Christmas without the traditional cakes. You have a dish called ‘panettone’ and another one called ‘pandoro’.

There are a lot of cakes at Christmas time! Another one, for example, is called ‘turrone’ and this contains hazelnuts. The first two are really similar. In the first, panettone, you have dried grapes, cream, chocolate and some vanilla. Handmade cakes are really good, but there are of course big bakeries that make cake, although they are not as good.

What is your favourite Christmas present?
I remember the Christmas tree and the decorations, I remember waiting to open the presents at home. There were many presents I remember receiving, but the idea of Christmas is what I really appreciate.

A message of Christmas you wish to share with others
Christmas is the time to relax, stop for a little bit, and enjoy a little bit, sometimes with your mother and father, other times with your close friends, and enjoy the time you spend with them

– Alessandro Donnini

I’m going to miss the kids this Christmas


How did you celebrate Christmas as a child?

We’d decorate the tree during the weeks before Christmas, and mom used to make a lot of the Christmas sweets at home. The midnight mass was also a Christmas tradition we used to attend. One of my favourite elements of Christmas was the plum cake, which she used to flambé. She used to make this at home, and it was delicious.
There was of course the opening of the gifts, and during the day, we would meet our friends and family. What I remember most clearly were the Christmas goodies that we’d make and distribute with our neighbours.

How do you celebrate Christmas in your home?
The excitement is still there, but during times like this, when the children are not at home, I really miss them. Normally, we have either our son or daughter at home with us for Christmas, but this time, my daughter Aditi is travelling. She normally, however, does make it a point to come home for Christmas. We are really going to be missing each other this time. The excitement of midnight mass is also not there, because the service begins at 8:30 in the evening, and does finish well before midnight.
I think the priorities of Christmas have changed. You would, for example, previously go to a Christmas party or a Christmas dance after the midnight service, but we’ve all grown up now, so it’s changed since then.

What is your favourite Christmas present?
My favourite Christmas memory was not so much as a child, but when I was a teenager. Once my parents had gone to sleep, after the midnight mass – we used to come back freezing at night because we lived in Nagpur as my parents were in the army – so we lived in our grandma’s house in Nagpur. We opened the gifts after midnight mass, and after we exchanged gifts, my mother and father went to sleep.
My sisters and I decided to put on this event that was kind of like a fashion show, because all of us had gotten clothes, and that was among the best Christmas memories I can remember.

A message of Christmas you wish to share with others
I still keep the traditions of Christmas alive, and although I don’t make the goodies any more. I order these from someone else, and I try to keep these staples alive. I remember, a few years ago, Aditi was going to Canada, and I sent about 25 kilos of sweets with her for my sister. Another tradition I’ve striven to keep alive is my habit of giving sweets to close family and friends. I create this box with these goodies and give them to others who are close to me.

— Asha Selvaraj

My mother is coming to stay with us this Christmas


How did you celebrate Christmas as a child?

What we’ve done since our childhood is decorate our house, not in a lavish way, but just to make us happy. Our father used to decorate a Christmas tree for us, and we would faithfully sit and do it together as a family. This is the best thing about Christmas. Another thing I really miss about Christmas are the sweets we used to make. We had this person who’d come over to our house, and he would bring to us a lot of Indian sweets. We’d then visit our neighbours and share these with everybody.

This brought to us a lot of joy, and this is what I really remember about Christmas. We would go around the neighbourhood, wish everyone and give sweets to them. Another thing that is really dear to me at Christmastime is our faith. We’d go to pray early in the morning, sometimes late at night, and then we’d distribute the sweets. We’d help our mother cook our special Christmas lunch – in our house, it was biriyani every Christmas – and after that, we’d meet our family. Our aunt didn’t live very far away, so we’d all gather at her home for a Christmas dinner. All of us cousins would go to her home.

What is your favourite Christmas present?
The previous night – we believed in Santa – my grandmother would place gifts under our pillow. Every morning, we believed Santa had left those presents for us...we were so innocent! That is something I really enjoyed...waking up to that gift in the morning.

The best gift I received from ‘Santa’ was this unique game that was unusual back then. It was pretty unusual, and I don’t know where my grandma got this from. It was a chart to which you connected wires, and when you matched together two similar things on this game, a light and sound would come from the game.

When I was in grade four – I don’t know where she got it from – but it was really fancy. It had a lot of cartoon characters on it, and it had a storyline, so I had to match the figures to find out what the story was about. Another thing I remember was a toy piano!

How do you celebrate Christmas in your home?
One thing I really miss is my family, but this Christmas my mother is coming here, so what I really miss is my family. I miss the sweets that we made, but a lot of my friends are going back home for Christmas. We do try and share that culture with our children here in Muscat, but the one thing I miss most is my kids going around to our neighbours and sharing these sweets with them. I do my best to share this with whoever is around, but the family element is what is missing, particularly for the kids.

With the commitments I have in the church band – I am a drummer – there is a lot of activity happening around Christmas time, because we play a lot of carols around this time of the year. Before this, however, we used to go back to India. What I really miss here is the family, but I will be having a Christmas get together, and we will be going to sing Christmas carols on Friday. We began this last year, because I wanted my children to have this exposure. At night, we sing carols and it is great fun. It is something I really miss here.

A message of Christmas you wish to share with others
It is about joy, about family, and about renewed hope. Through the year, there are a lot of things that are happening at work, but this is about taking time off, and the best thing is being thankful for what you have received during the year. You must be thankful for all that has been given to you, and this is what I really cherish.

— Deepa Evlyn

This is my favourite time of the year!


How did you celebrate Christmas as a child?

What I really liked about Christmas as a child was when we went carolling. We would visit the old age homes and the orphanages, and carried with us a basket of home-made Christmas delicacies. Everything was almost always made at home, and from scratch: fruit cake, plum cake, rose cookies, and diamond cards.

It was really something to watch their precious smiles, and of course, all of us cousins would huddle around the Christmas tree, waiting to open that one special gift that we believed Santa had brought for us, if we were nice – and not naughty – throughout the year.

How do you celebrate Christmas in your home?
The month of December is my favourite time of the year, because Christmas brings together a lot of friends and family, and of course, lots and lots of yum food to feast one, especially after the month-long fasting during advent.

Now of course, all of that has changed. Christmas messages have been reduced to nothing but forwarded texts on WhatsApp. It’s become more of social occasion and somewhere, I feel the true magic of Christmas is getting lost.

Christmas is that one time of the year that everyone looks forward to, to create new and happy memories with your near and dear ones, your loved ones, friends and family, and in fact, last year, we had our grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins join us here in Muscat for a phenomenal Christmas celebration, that was just like old times. Our family huddled round the Christmas tree, and it was such great fun. This year, I am looking forward to the take the kids to the tree-lighting events in and around Muscat, do some holiday baking with them, and attend the midnight service in Ruwi. I love their beautiful choir!

What is your favourite Christmas present?
Christmas gifts? Yay! My favourite Christmas gift was a snow globe my aunt had gotten me, because I’d never seen snow before, but what I would really love would be to get my family together again, just like old times, the house ringing with festive joy and laughter, and sing Christmas carols together, because everyone’s gotten so busy and we’re all doing our own thing. A lovely Christmas dinner would really be the best gift.

A message of Christmas you wish to share with others
Keeping with the true spirit of Christmas, I would like to ask people to do their bit in giving back to society, and observe the values of sharing and caring. You could start by donating old or unused clothes and blankets, especially during the colder months, to your driver, your cleaner, or anyone who needs it. You could offer them a lovely home-cooked meal. Have their families spend time with you during Christmas. These are small steps you could take to make others happy.

— Merrin James

Christmas is a time to share with others


How did you celebrate Christmas as a child?

As a child, I remember we would travel home to Goa for Christmas. It was also an opportunity for us to reunite with our cousins. For us, Christmas would begin by putting up decorations and making the traditional sweets – neureos, kulkuls, nankhati and baath, among others. The ladies from the neighbouring houses would also join us in preparing them. Along with other children, we would go from house to house singing Christmas carols.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, we would go for our night service followed by the setting off of a lot of fireworks. My favourite memory of Christmas takes place on the 25th of December every year, the whole family, including my uncles, aunts, cousins and us would gather and have lunch at my grandmother’s house, where we would have merriment, exchanging of gifts and have a scrumptious meal with the entire family, which would go on until sunset.

How do you celebrate it now?
Yes, we have grown older, but some things don’t change. Christmas with the family is still Christmas. The excitement of putting up the Christmas tree and the lights and the decor still remain the same. On the 24th of December, we go to church for the night service with family. In Goa, after the night service, we are served with hot coffee and the traditional plum cake which we all relish in the cold, and then, of course, we go to meet friends after.

But the 25th of December, Christmas Day, is about family. We still have our traditional Christmas family lunch with everyone gathered at my grandmother’s house which goes on and ends with dinner and dancing in the evenings.

What is your favourite Christmas present?
It is really hard to put your finger on my favourite Christmas present. Our demands increase from one Christmas to the next, having begun with soft toys and then moving on to bags, perfume and jewellery. But my favourite gift would be the necklace my parents gifted me in 2018.

A message of Christmas you wish to share with others
As we get older we can get very occupied with our evolving lives. The joy of Christmas comes in sharing and giving, and that’s probably why we have concepts such as Christmas gifts or Secret Santa.

The message I would like to share is that Christmas comes once a year, and we all join in to celebrate this by decorating houses and dressing up. At the same time, it’s the perfect time and perfect excuse to not only light our homes, but to light another person’s house as well. It may be through the smallest gesture of being nice to someone or visiting and spending time with the old, or by placing small
secret gifts to anyone at work or around your neighbourhood.

The true essence of joy, happiness or satisfaction you get is by seeing the smile on their faces. So this December, experience the joy of Christmas by sharing and giving.

— Ruby Fernandes