Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Talking about the spirit of Christmas in India, columnist Seema Goswami writes in this week’s HT Brunch: “And so it is with Christmas. Christians may mark it with a midnight mass or a early morning service on Christmas day, but the rest of us will celebrate the spirit of the day in our own way. And that, if you ask me, is the greatest triumph of our syncretic Indian culture: that our festivals retain their religious significance even as they are celebrated across religious lines. Contrast this with the West where political correctness now dictates that you should say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’’ for fear of giving offence to some minority or religious group. Strange, isn’t it? Especially when in secular India we have no problem in wishing one another Shubh Diwali or Id Mubarak. And in keeping with that spirit, here’s wishing all of you a Merry Christmas. Enjoy the Big Day!”

This is something I have been thinking since I posted a Facebook status update on the eve of Christmas: “Merri Christmas, Terri Christmas, Sabki Christmas.” In English, Merry is happy, in Hindi, the same pronunciation means mine, while teri means yours. So, I said Christmas is for everyone.

Okay, if you ask me, I’d says Christmas is, among other things, a marketing gimmick, to make you spend money on gifts, cakes, and of course alcohol, and the party is on till the New Year’s day.

Yet, there is something about us Indians and our desire to have fun. That’s why we dance on streets, whether it’s a wedding or a Ganapati procession. We don’t really care about the occasion, as long as we have fun.

That’s why even if I was born a Hindu Brahmin, Christmas reminds me of rum cakes, especially the way a friend baked it. Id reminds of gost dalcha I had in Mominpura, and sheek kebab, Ganapati festival in Pune reminds of fresh modaks with coconut fillings.

Talking about Christmas, Goswami mentions how in Bengal, Christmas is called Bada Din, literally big day, and I think of my growing up years in Assam. Yes, I did not know about Christmas; in Assam it was called Bar Din, the meaning is the same.

In Marahi, Christmas is called ‘Natal’ which is also the Portuguese word for Christmas. Perhaps, Christian missionaries arrives in Maharashtra from Goa via Konkon. That perhaps also explains why a number of Maharashtrian Brahmins were converted to the Christian faith in the turn of the Century. Does the world Natal also reminds you of the world Nativity? Yes, Jesus Christ’s birthday.

In Hindi, Jesus is called Issa Massi. In Assamese he is called Jishu Cristo, which is same in Latin. In Assamese, Christian priests are called Paduri, a variation of Padre, the Portuguese word for the same. My grandfather called the stitched upper garment he wore, a kameez, the Portuguese word for shirt has a similar pronunciation.

Who said globalisation is a recently history? I guess, human history is more integrally connected than we care to know. Difference are just cosmetic, the names are created to further some agenda or other. Beneath it all, we are the same, as Michael Jackson crooned, it’s doesn’t matter whether it’s black or white.

Wikipedia tells me about Christ: The word Christ (or similar spellings) appears in English and most European languages, owing to the Greek usage of Christós (transcribed in Latin as Christus) in the New Testament as a description for Jesus. Christ has now become a name, one part of the name "Jesus Christ", but originally it was a title (the Messiah) and not a name.

In the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible (written over a century before the time of Jesus), the word Christ was used to translate into Greek the Hebrew mashiach (messiah), meaning "anointed." Khristós in classical Greek usage could mean covered in oil, or anointed, and is thus a literal translation of messiah.

The spelling Christ in English was standardized in the 18th century, when, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the spelling of certain words was changed to fit their Greek or Latin origins.

In modern usage, even within secular terminology, Christ usually refers to Jesus, building on the centuries old tradition of such use. Since the Apostolic Age, the use of the definite article before the word Christ and its development into a proper name signifies its identification with Jesus as the promised Jewish messiah.

Read the complete Seema Goswami story here

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