How Goa Blends old Traditions and new trends to create a unique celebration
Soft crunchy snow blankets the village, vialis 40mg with spires of smoke snaking their way out of chimney stacks. Warm lights set wooden log houses aglow and a bright star shines in the sky. The perfect Christmas setting. And one that’s as foreign to Goa as the pine-studded Alps.
Still, sales Goa’s Christmas traditions are among the oldest and richest to be found anywhere in the East.
Despite our heavily western influences – including a certain heavy-set bearded man dressed in red – Goa celebrates a rather unique Christmas. It’s a mélange of East and West, sildenafil borrowing easily adaptable traditions of the Portuguese settlers and flavouring them with a local twist. Christmas might be observed on just one day, but the party begins long before.
In the absence of any earth-shattering tectonic changes, Goa will never experience snow. And despite the ominous signs of climate change (rain in December!), there’s still a good nip in the air early in the morning. A walk through the fields reveals low-hanging mist thick with vapour, the ideal setting for emerging nativity scenes.
This last week of Advent, a time of preparation for the Nativity, is an annual ebb and flow to the grocery store and back for ingredients, to the store room and back for decorations, to the city and back for gifts, to the tailor and back for outfits.
Christmas signals a time for family, a time when most relatives who live and work abroad return for two weeks of merriment. Grandma usually rounds up everyone, delegating tasks furiously and letting the incompetent suffer her wrath. The holy grail of Goan Christmas is not lunch on the day, but the ‘kuswad’ that is sent off to neighbours and relatives.
This napkin-covered tray filled with traditional Christmas delicacies is the bar by which every home’s propensity for cooking is measured. There will be much whispering about how Santana Maria is losing her touch with bebinca, or whether the new Coutinho daughter-in-law is indeed a good cook.* Neighbours and relatives will also ensure that an extra helping is sent to families who lost a loved one in the past year as they generally avoid celebrations of any kind.
Deeper pockets, busier schedules and lazier bones encourage many to head to bakeries and confectioneries, where a wide variety of hampers are available. Stores like A Pastelaria and Mr Baker in Panjim, Felicidade stores in Mapusa and Marliz in Margao are filled with jostling customers. Many have preferred home bakers who specialise in certain sweets. Christmas in Goa would not be the same without kulkuls, neuris, gram doce, pinagr, baath cake, dodol, bebinca and bolinhas. Some even make the rum-infused mixed fruit cake so omnipresent in the western world.
The preparation of sweets is complemented by decorating homes with pretty lights, making a star out of bamboo and kite paper, and recreating the Nativity scene. A casuarina tree – which bears the closest resemblance to a Christmas conifer – is usually decorated with lights, shiny silver and gold tinsel and colourful baubles. Some alternatively decorate their favourite tree in their yard.
Santa Claus humouring not just kids
South Goa’s beach belt offers some of the most stunning crib displays in Goa, created from scratch by different vaddos. The depictions vary from traditional scenes to environment-friendly themes or other social messages. These activities are often not confined by religious beliefs and are a shining example of harmony in the state. Many simply hop to the nearest store or crammed market to buy readymade paper stars and Christmas trees.
A few days before the festival, parties are held for little children, with games, sweets and gifts. While villages see children frolicking around church yards, many city youngsters head to five-star hotels such as Benaulim’s Taj Exotica or Panjim’s Cidade de Goa, which was one of the first in the state to host children’s Christmas parties. It is at all of these that Santa routinely makes an appearance before Christmas, which thankfully most little ones fail to question.
Practising Catholics also take some time out to confess their sins to a priest, the queues inside churches standing testimony to its continued religious significance.
Fashion designers and tailors usually find this their busiest time of the year, what with the clash of the most popular wedding season of the year and Christmas. It is now time to make last-minute adjustments or squeeze in a panic-stricken customer. The alternative option to pick prêt-a-porter exists aplenty and those brave enough to buy online without having to try for fit discover vast retail spaces with extremely competitive rates.
Groups of carollers walk around neighbourhoods singing familiar festive music, and listeners generally put a small donation into a box they carry. Churches often organise carolling on a larger scale with a tempo, loudspeakers, streamers and sweets for little children who might come outdoors to listen.
The final drama around Christmas begins with preparations before midnight mass. While many churches in places like Mumbai have advanced timings to around 8pm, Goa still stays awake to begin the Eucharistic celebration at the stroke of midnight. Families take up a better part of the evening to get dressed, fix bows on sleeping children and sneak presents under the tree.
Some churches, such as Don Bosco’s Shrine in Panjim, appear to be more favoured than others for midnight mass – whether for the choir, the sermon or the increased chance of meeting friends afterwards. Services at all places are filled both with fervent worshippers and fidgety distracted folk peeking over shoulders to people watch.
As the faithful file out after mass, cake and coffee is distributed, and the little children rush home to savagely unpack all the gifts under the tree. Those who have long debunked the Santa myth head off to Christmas balls instead. Top bands are booked months in advance to play at popular shindigs, which are generally so packed that revellers are hardly able to dance. Still, they are revered as the best meet-and-greet spots, wiping out any chance of complaints by acquaintances eager to have an annual two-bit chat. Emerald Lawns in Parra, Kesarval in Verna and more recently Quinta de Valadares also in Verna, offer the best chances of meeting pretty much everyone you have ever known in Goa.
The following day, while the youngsters catch up on sleep, the older folk get started on the lavish Christmas lunch that will be the highlight of the afternoon. It’s customary to round up the nearest squealing piglet for a roast leitão that will command centre stage on the dining table. Surrounding it will be the very best of Goan delights – from pork sorpotel to beef roulade, fish with mayonnaise to chicken cafreal. Vegetarians might find it hard to fill their plates at one of these typical lunches. Perhaps peas’ pulao with some hastily cut fresh salad?
Western Christmas traditions have also filtered into Goa and it’s not uncommon to see a large stuffed bird on the table instead. Turkeys and chickens are roasted at home, or are brought in dressed, glazed and ready-to-go from the supermarket. Some families, who would rather spend time relaxing together instead of slaving together in the kitchen, waltz into the nearest luxury hotel for a full-course meal on Christmas day.
There is always the guarantee that the house bar will be opened up, and the malts, fenis and wines that have been maturing through the year slide effortlessly all the way down the hatchet.
After the belly-aching but extremely satisfying Christmas lunch and much-needed snooze, the party animals find their way to packed nightclubs of the likes of Marbela Beach Resort or Cafe Lilliput in north Goa or Gigi’s in the south where they party away the rest of the festival. In the coming days, those with inclination – and tickets – head for the nearest tiatr performance. Kala Academy and Ravindra Bhavan usually host a number of performances through the season.
Like it is elsewhere, Christmas in Goa is all about spending time with family and catching up with loved ones. And while many places have sold their souls to commercialisation, Goa still manages to easily mix its hedonistic temptations with spirituality.
Come December 25, there will be tables heaving with food, the clatter of drinking glasses and shouts of children. Families will gather and warm greetings will be exchanged. There will be a prayer before meal time and donations to the poor, discussions on politics and football, and leftovers for days to come. The party that started well before will continue until long after. The perfect Goan Christmas setting.
A Live band singing Christmas carols ata Christmas Tree Lighting Event at Alila Diwa Goa
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good time!
(*References to any person, dead or alive, are purely incidental)