Christmas in India: Part four

Four hours after falling asleep, the alarm on my watch woke me around seven on Christmas morning. There was no rush downstairs towards a thickly ornamented Christmas tree, no pile of presents off which to rip red wrapping paper, no cold cocoa left half-sipped on the dining table next to a thank you note from Kris Kringle.

But why focus on what this Christmas didn’t offer when there was so much more that it did?

The product of the past day’s media coverage had been manifested in the morning’s paper. I was pictured posing with the others, my palms together over my head for no reason but the aesthetics of the photo. Two other pictures were shown with the accompanying article, but the highlight was the given caption. France, Germany and Canada had apparently been forgotten; according to the caption, the performing Rotary students apparently hail not only from the USA, but also from Sweden and Japan.

So what was it? Did we get new exchange students overnight, or had there been some secret cross-continental emigrations courtesy Santa’s sleigh?

Journalistic inaccuracies laughed aside, we said goodbye and began our search for separate autos home. Amanda, Anaïs, Nisha and I decided to share a ride, given the proximity of our homes. With activity on the streets this time of day scarce, finding an auto was proving to be a challenge. Rarely did anything pass us on the street, let alone an auto. The few our eyes could catch were just taunting us, full and unable to accommodate us. It was a solid ten minutes before we flagged down an auto driver that would give us a reasonable rate for a ride home.

Halfway home, that is.

The rickshaw came to a stop on an empty street, and I knew as soon as the driver turned to us and said “No petrol” that I had another signature moment in my already memorable holiday. I doubt I’ll ever again be stranded in a rickshaw on Christmas, and as the situation resolved itself minutes later when another rickshaw came by, I was slightly disappointed. Couldn’t there be some unexpected twist or epic encounter, like our ride getting stuck in quicksand or chased by a horde of wild elephants?

It was in relative peace that I jogged home from where the second rickshaw dropped us. I could have walked, but it seemed more prudent to run as quickly as possible. Once again I became self-conscious, wondering what the few locals on the street were thinking of the blue-jean clad foreigner jogging through Nagpur on Christmas morning. Patches of sun made their way through the trees and cool air blew softly across my face. Normally caught in a tangled mass of pillows, blankets and dreams this time of day, the morning’s atmosphere was another blatant, refreshing contrast to my ordinary life.

Most members of my host family were not yet awake, but I wished Merry Christmas to those who were. Running on four hours of sleep, the double bed in my room tantalized me with its comfort, but I sat on it quite upright and finished wrapping my gift.

I was Nisha’s Secret Santa. The idea of Secret Santa had been pitched during the South Tour, and the names had been drawn on a train ride in the waning days of the trip. This way, everyone would be sure to give and get at least one Christmas gift. Pandora’s box had been opened slightly, and the identities of some Secret Santas no longer remained secret. But as of Christmas morning, Nisha didn’t know I’d drawn her name, and I didn’t know who’d drawn mine.

Just the way I wanted it.

As all my other Christmas gifts would have to be shipped halfway around the world (or had been already) I put some serious thought into Nisha’s gift. Ultimately I decided on a book entitled Awesome Facts, which I’d found with surprising ease whilst returning home from practice some days earlier; driving to the bookstore required me to make a detour of about three feet, and the book was featured at the front of the store.

After finishing the accompanying note, wrapping the gift proved to be more of a challenge than I’d expected. Unable to find any suitable wrapping paper, I’d used an old Marathi newspaper – the thinness and fragility of which made taping a delicate, tedious task. By the time I’d finished applying the “bow” – an orange lanyard from my hometown and a purple ribbon – there was no time left for my mid-morning nap.

All of us were to meet at Modern School one last time before a bus would drive us to Suraburdi Meadows, where the conference was being held. And our tablas and drums weren’t the only equipment we’d be taking from Modern School.

A small Christmas tree, courtesy of the Khatris, was being kept in the back room. No matter that it was just over four feet tall. No matter that the needles felt nothing like those of pine. No matter that the branches stuck out like a skinny seven-year old measuring his wingspan.

It wasn’t a traditional Christmas tree, but since when had this been a traditional Christmas?

Two days before, I’d stolen from Brii an unused pizza box and cut a lumpy white cardboard star using a pen cap and an uneven slit in the ground. Only Dascha’s scissors skills salvaged my atrocious artwork. Placed atop our tree was probably the ugliest ornament to ever adorn a Christmas tree, but at least it was decorated.

When all 13 of us had arrived, we took the tree aboard the bus and drove off, late as usual. We placed our presents around the tree, forming a surprisingly sizeable pile at its base. One at a time, the gifts were distributed, unwrapped and opened.

The most exciting part of Christmas had begun!

The opening of my gifts had always been the climax of my holiday season. The gifts I gave out were usually afterthoughts, and my involvement included little more than wrapping them the night before. Even the “Candygrams” I sent to my friends at school were just notes with a candy cane attached, about the size of an iPod and about 1/1000 the cost. The focus of my holiday was always on what I would be getting back. Its success hinged on the quantity and quality of the parcels and notes I’d get back.

So why was it the opposite this Christmas? Why didn’t I care which of the parcels under our makeshift tree was mine, or what was in it?

Jordan, my Secret Santa, had bought me a notebook and pen – probably the two nicest I’ve ever had the privilege to call mine. I recall a conversation with him on the South Tour about wanting better writing utensils for the North Tour. Considering the amount of time I’d spent on South India with a pen and notebook in hand, his gifts had personal meaning that went far beyond any listed price.

I can’t speak for Nisha, but I think she was satisfied with her gift. And so was almost everyone on the bus. Giving these gifts did more than complete an unfinished Christmas Day task. Even though each of us received just one gift, getting something meaningful makes it all the more memorable. And it makes the smiles even harder to suppress.

It took 18 years, but I think I’d finally realized something about my favorite holiday.

Giving, not getting, is what Christmas is really about.

🙂

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One Response to “Christmas in India: Part four”

  1. Nisha Says:

    I LOVE THE AWESOME FACTS BOOK. IT IS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL AND HEART FELT. I AM SO HAPPY.

    So many interesting facts about India! I’ll tell on North tour!

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