Christmas greetings

This is the time of year when I normally take a break, and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. It’s a bit superfluous this year as I’ve hardly been posting anything anyway, but that’s no reason to jettison the annual tradition.

It may be wondered, I guess, why I, who, given my name, am very obviously from a Bengali Hindu background, should be marking a Christian festival when I don’t even mark a Hindu one. Why do I wish everyone a Merry Christmas when I have never wished anyone a Happy Diwali? Or, rather, given that for Bengali Hindus it is the Durga Puja rather than the Diwali that is the principal religious festival, why I have never wished anyone a Subha Vijaya.

It’s a fair question, I guess. I suppose part of the reason is that I never had a religious upbringing. My parents, deeply attached though they were to Bengali culture, were not even slightly religious. They did miss the Durga Puja though: that was, after all, a major part of the tradition they had grown up in, and they loved it as much as western Christians, even those who aren’t religious, love Christmas. But Durga Puja in Bengal is very much a community event. I still remember, quite vividly, my grandfather taking me around town to see the various images that had been set up of Durga and her divine family. Each institution, each large family house, each sub-community within the larger community, had one – a tableau depicting the ten-armed goddess Durga, accompanied by her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati and her sons Ganesh and Kartik, slaying the demon Mahishasura.

I must have been younger than five, for that’s the age I left India to come to Britain, but even at that age, I took in, and remember still, the excitement, the colours, the hustle and the bustle, the general air of bonhomie and festivity. And, had I not been so suddenly transplanted to a very different environment to begin life anew, that is the festival that would have remained dear to my heart.

As it was, a very different tradition took its place. The Durga Pujas stopped abruptly: given that it was, in essence, a community event, we couldn’t really recreate it at home; and the Bengali community we eventually found in Glasgow in the early 1970s was, back then at least, too small to stage such an event. But the need we all have not merely for festivity, but also for custom and ritual, remained. And in the western world, the focal point of all that was obviously Christmas.

Memories of those early Christmases in the new world remain very vivid. I think the first western music I ever heard were the carols we sang in school. Being the only pupil in that school who wasn’t white, I soon became typecast as the Second King in school nativity plays, and I remember very vividly making my entrance with the other two Kings, singing – quite prophetically, as it turned out – “westward leading, still proceeding”.

Nowadays, we live in a society far more obsessed with questions of identity than anyone was back in the mid-1960s. I am sometimes asked whether my parents objected this “Christianisation” of their wee boy, and the answer is “No – they didn’t even think of objecting”. Hinduism is a very syncretic religion anyway, and my parents weren’t, as I said, themselves religious: they saw nothing to object to in my learning about, or even taking part in, the Christian religion and its traditions. Neither did they object to the teaching of Bible stories in class, the Christian assemblies we had at start of day, and so on. They continued describing themselves as “Hindu” in census forms, but that’s about as far as it went.

When my parents moved to Lancashire in the mid-1970s, they found there a Bengali community large enough to celebrate Durga Puja, and naturally, they took to it. But there was little there for me: I was a teenager by then, and there wasn’t much to excite me at these events where all the uncles and aunties (all friends of my parents were uncles and aunties), dressed in their fineries, socialised, while I sat there effectively twiddling my thumbs. It was Christmas that had now taken over as the principal annual celebration: I had, after all, been westward leading (still proceeding) from the age of five. And now that I’m nearer my dotage than I am to my childhood years, I have far too many vivid memories associated with Christmas – especially those early Christmases – not to wallow in them.

There are other religious festivals too, of course, and I’m sure those who have grown up in those traditions will respond to them much as I respond to Christmas. I do not mean to belittle any of these: devout or faithless, religious or secular, we very much need, I think, some sense of custom and of ritual. Eid, Diwali – or Hanukkah, which the Jewish people are currently celebrating – it’s all good.

So no, I won’t wish you Happy Holidays. I find that bland, and a bit silly. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy whatever you celebrate, whenever you celebrate it. As the late and much lamented Dave Allen used to say, may your God go with you.

Normally on these occasions, I put up a painting by an old master depicting the Nativity. This year, for a change, I am putting up a wintry photograph I took on my phone.

My best wishes to all!

9 responses to this post.

  1. And a very happy Christmas to you, Himadri.


  2. Posted by Toril Eidsvold on December 21, 2022 at 5:16 pm

    Well said, Himadri!
    Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year to you and your family!


  3. Posted by Chris Jennings on December 21, 2022 at 6:57 pm

    Merry Christmas, Himadri, and best wishes for 2023.



  4. Merry Christmas!!!!!!! And a Happy New Year!


  5. Merry Christmas to you too!


  6. Posted by Daphna Kedmi on December 22, 2022 at 9:09 am

    Happy Hannukah from my community and Merry Christmas to all.


  7. Posted by Tony on December 22, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Have a good one, whatever you’re celebrating 😉


  8. Posted by Chris Lyon on December 22, 2022 at 9:02 pm

    Merry Christmas to you, Himadri. I often think of the time, more than 30 years ago, when we had lovely neighbours of Gujerati Hindu descent (via Idi Amin’s Uganda). One day, around this time of year, when I was in their house, the son asked his mother very earnestly, “What’s the Gujerati for ‘Christmas tree’?”. He was very nonplussed when his mum immediately answered, “It’s ‘Christmas tree’!”. It must be very hard to separate the strands of our multiple cultures, but I suppose most of us, if we have any sense, make the most of everything that is on offer to us and just enjoy the best that is to be had. I don’t see myself as anything other than totally secular, but l’m happy to enjoy a good party or great food, wherever it comes from.


  9. Christmastime always reminds me of Dickens. And, coincidentally, I just finished a book regarding Dickens that I believe I may have recommended to you in the past, Himadri; if not, I’m recommending it now. Here’s a link to my review of the book from Goodreads/my personal blog:

    You should give this a go. I think you might be impressed by this fellow’s book.

    Stay healthy, happy, and sane! 🙂



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