A different Christmas from a different time, recall Anglo-Indians (Feature)

December 23rd, 2008 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 23 (IANS) Trees decked with homemade decorations adding to the magic of crisp, cold, star-studded nights around Christmas might not be totally lost today, but for Delhi’s Anglo-Indians much has changed down the years.With another Christmas round the corner, many in this distinct community of people of mixed British and Indian ancestry recollect the festivities of the past with nostalgia, while others say it is best to change with the times.

“Christmas is a family-oriented festival, it is a time when we have family dinners and parties. But I can say it is not what it used to be years ago,” Keith Flory, a senior member of the All India Anglo-Indian Association, told IANS.

“At that time, our families lived in the railway and telegraph colonies. So there was proximity, everybody was around. But now we are all segregated in different parts of the city and elsewhere.

“So I can say that distances have played a major role in Christmas celebrations,” he added.

Spread across the country, Anglo-Indians make up a distinct minority originating in India and their native language is English. The beginnings of the community can be traced back to the early part of the 17th century.

“About 40 to 50 years ago, the only Westernised community was that of Anglo-Indians. We had our own unique culture, very different from other communities in India and that is why we had our own little world.”

“But today there has been a cultural blend. Now it’s not just Anglo-Indians and Christians who celebrate Christmas, everyone does. So we do not have to cling to only people who are of our community,” he added.

Has the decline in their numbers contributed to the change?

“I agree that now the number of Anglo-Indians is far less than in the pre-independence days but still we do have more than 300 families in Delhi itself. So I will not say that that is the main reason,” Flory said.

Over the years, several Anglo-Indians have migrated to Australia, England, the US and Canada among other countries.

Those who have stuck around still welcome the festival by putting up a star, decorating the Christmas tree, readying the house for the big day, shopping for gifts and helping each other prepare cookies.

“The very first thing that we do during Christmas time is preparing cakes of three types - fruit, plain and walnut,” said Carl Savyell, a school teacher.

“Some families even prepare wines at home. It’s a time when we unwind and spread the message of love and togetherness.”

Oliver Francis, an ad professional in his late 20s, claimed that many of the festival traditions in India - like the Christmas Dance, Midnight Mass and Christmas lunch - used to be synonymous with Anglo-Indians.

Many recall that there used to be one long celebration of the festival stretching from the weeks before Dec 25 to Epiphany Jan 6, which was a Christian holiday celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus.

The younger generation which has not witnessed the pre-independence festivities does not feel the pangs of change, but elders in the community feel Christmas fervour has diminished a little now.

“Years ago it was a tradition to visit friends and families. Failure to do so amounted to slight. That was an important way of bonding with each other, but today we do not do that because of the distance,” Flory said.

Many people in the community have left for other countries while the rest are far way, so this tradition is also dying down, he said.

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