The Christmas before Christmas

At the end of November, many years ago, an aunt invited us to her Christmas feast. Her rationale was this: ‘I have realised that by the time Christmas comes around, we all get tired of eating the nice food, so I want all of you to enjoy it beforehand.’  No one was about to argue with her argument. We were always ready for a good meal any time of year. The feast was sumptuous, with cooked pork left overnight to get the gelatinous effect which is such a highlight of Christmas meat. In addition, she had prepared elaborate treats and cookies and all the food we associate with Christmas. The older guests were philosophising a bit and expounding on about how Christmas was not just about food, nevertheless they too, served themselves generous portions. Christmas before Christmas, sort of.

Feasting and Christmas, we all know that is part of the Naga expectation. It has evolved like that from childhood and without needing a prophetic revelation, will surely continue in that vein. We cannot help certain associations, such as good food and Christmas. And we also associate Christmas with generosity and charitable actions. It is rooted in the spirit of the divine gift from which Christmas stems, although some nations have made it all about tradition and holiday making. As far as I am concerned, we could celebrate Christmas all year round, in the sense of sharing with those who are less fortunate, and in the sense of abiding in an atmosphere of goodwill towards our fellow men. I greatly appreciate the people who are considerate of the poor families in their neighbourhood and make sure they get an opportunity to celebrate Christmas too. That is true charity.  No problem at all with starting early with charity, although the concept of charity has received a negative connotation nowadays. Perhaps give it another name. Giving away old, unusable clothing to the poor is not charity. If you want to show love, buy them new things that they can actually use, new socks, scarves, shawls, gloves or headgear. Many other items will come to mind. My list is not an exhaustive list. My niece says that the beggars from Assam catch the train to Dimapur around Christmastime, in order to beg on the streets of our dear town. They do this a week or more ahead of Christmas day, coming in on a morning train, spending half the day begging, and returning home in the evening. They come knowing that people are in a more generous mood at this season, and the beggars from our neighbouring state get more money from our shoppers at Christmas than at other times. That explains the surplus of beggars on Church Road in the month of December. It coincides with the time when the spirit of celebration is at an all-time high. A factor explaining the generous spirit of Naga givers?Ah well, much better to be known for a spirit of generosity instead of its opposite. 

One Christmas, the church youth of Union Baptist Church made tea and cake and distributed it to the jawans who were patrolling the town. It became obvious that the jawans did not know how to react to such treatment. Especially those who were new to the area and probably had been fed only stereotypes of what the Nagas were like. They had not been prepped to expect kindness.  They did drink the tea and eat the cakes. I think that was a beautiful way of sharing the Christmas spirit, reaching out to those who were far from home in a strange place. Another incident is the experience of a young family driving down to Dimapur after dark. They noticed the BRTF workers huddled around a fire. The men had finished work and were warming themselves by the fire. The family distributed cakes to them and the workers were very surprised as they had not expected such a treat.  Their thanks were effusive and when the family drove off, both parties shouted Merry Christmas to each other. Giving is its own sweet reward, and when the giving goes beyond the known circle and includes those that are not seen by society, then the giving becomes truly meaningful. It is not relevant that maybe these are people who do not celebrate Christmas. It is nice to be able to take advantage of the one period in the year when being kind to others is not going to get weird looks from the receivers. Giving is never outdated. A woman I know makes food gifts for the Muslim families in her neighbourhood. The father is a day wage worker and she knows that they struggle to feed their five children. It is beautiful that she does not let religion get in the way of loving people. An example we could all follow.