It's the time to be jolly!

Festive Spirit:

It's the time to be jolly!

Christmas is three days away and the air is already rife with the whiff of rum cakes and the lilting sound of carols. The Christmas tree is shimmering with gig lamps and bright angels, wrapped gifts have been arranged tidily by the tree, the green/red stocking has been stuffed with candies, the meat marinated for family dinner, and excitement is writ large on every face.

Over thousands of years, Christmas celebrations have changed. It is no longer merely a religious occasion. Millions of people across the world celebrate it and wait for December 25 to bring in the festive cheer and carry it forward to New Year’s celebrations. As 2014 draws to a close, do you want to celebrate Christmas differently? Are you tired of celebrating Christmas in the same way year after year? Do you want to relook the festive cheer? Do you think it is time for a celebration makeover? Here are different ways of celebrating Christmas.

A fun Christmas: Christmas celebrations began on a solemn note. In several parts of the world, the festivities are called Christmastide, a season that starts on Christmas Eve on December 24 and continues up to January 6, the Festival of Epiphany (also called Twelfth Night). This Christmas, let the solemn be. Throw in a dash of fun. Forget those blinking tiny lights that flood the market. Get some friends together, pull out needle and thread.

String popcorns. Get goofy, wear them. Or, stay sane and hang them on the Christmas tree. Done with that, load everyone in the car and drive around looking at lights and decorations around town. As miles whiz by, sing carols. Don’t be a loud nuisance, though. Wish strangers Merry Christmas. Say it gently. It will have them smile.

Get back home and discover fun in the kitchen. Ignore the clichéd rum cakes and fried chicken. Cook something unusual (don’t try something too complicated, though). Perhaps a Mexican cookie. Or, a Taiwanese rice cake. After dinner, get the Christmas song playlist out. The family can jam together. Or, play a musical game. Play a song and let everyone guess the singer/movie. The winner gets to wear the largest Santa cap and eat an extra slice of cake! This Christmas, it is fun that will strengthen your bond with family and friends.  
   
A secular Christmas: Christmas began as a religious festival for Christians. Over the years, celebrations stepped beyond it. Across the world, Christmas now is everyone’s festival. Everyone participates in the end of the year festive cheer. In a few countries, December 25 is a legal holiday, while in others, it might not be a formal public holiday but people from all faiths participate in the celebrations. A secular Christmas can mean different things to different people.

For some, it might be an added day of merry-making, for others, it becomes a perfect ruse for family/friends to get together. You can create your own celebration traditions or adhere to traditions that have been passed down in the family. Think green. Do not chop off a real fir tree. Recycle last year’s artificial tree. Try different kinds of cuisine. Cakes and cookies are not mandatory. You can rustle a Chinese dish, order a pizza. Mix and match food that everyone will savour. Do not do the clichéd gift-giving. Take your granny to the movie. Buy your grandpa a book. Make it personal.

Making it special for children: Three days before Christmas, are you stuffing stockings with candies and gifts? Tell ya, in this age of smartphone and Twitter kids, they all know there is no real Santa. There are no surprises for them. You can fool them no more. All the more reason to make this Christmas special for your kids. Go the DIY way. Buy handmade paper, glue, glitter, beads and buntings. Get the kids to make their own angels and stars to hang them on the Christmas tree. From the bookstore, get a simple recipe book.

Kids can bake their own cakes and cookies. If they are reluctant in the kitchen, you bake the cake. Then whip some sugar and cream and let the kids decorate the cake. Encourage them even if they turn a motif into a sloppy squiggle. While they are at it, tell them inspirational Christmas stories. A great idea is to buy a book about all the Christmas traditions around the world.

It will help them assimilate facts about other cultures. Instead of going to the mall, stay home and watch some interesting Christmas films (see box). You can also do a camp-out at home. Spread sleeping bags by the fireplace in the living room and imagine you are out in the woods, complete with hot chocolate and freshly popped popcorn.

A religious Christmas: December 25 marks the birth of Jesus Christ. However, over the years, commerce has nudged religion out. Are you also tired of a consumer Christmas? Do you want to go back to the old Christmas traditions and keep the religious spirit alive? Then, recall the ways things were. The Christmas tree was never so laden with ornaments. Keep it simple. Stick to decorations centred around the birth of Christ. You can create your own Nativity scene. Shun the modern commercial gift-giving ritual. Christ often sat amongst beggars and sinners. Emulate Him. Buy gifts for the poor and needy.
  
Do it generously: Christmas is a time of giving. Of sharing. An unknown author once said: Ask your children two questions this Christmas. First, “What do you want to give others on Christmas?” Second, “What do you want for Christmas?” The first fosters generosity of heart and an outward focus. The second can breed selfishness if not tempered by the first. Sadly, these days, the first thing that pops out for Christmas is I-want-this-for-Christmas list.

It has become an occasion for what I get, not what I can give. In the festive rush, not many spare a thought for those who have no one to celebrate Christmas with — no family to huddle around the dinner table; no one to buy them gifts. This Christmas, spare a thought for them. Get children to make give-away lists. Toys, books, clothes anything that they can give away to those who need them. This will balance the child’s giving-receiving experience.   

The Random Act of Christmas Kindness (RACK) project. Ever heard of it? This project is exactly what it sounds like — a random act of kindness with no expectation or reward in return. RACK propounds one act of kindness every day for 25 days before Christmas. Kindness is not linked to money.

It could be as simple as going to an Old Age Home and sharing a meal with them. Reading aloud their favourite story. Write a letter for their loved one. Walk into an animal shelter and bathe the puppies. Pay for the person behind you in the coffee line. Deliver poinsettias to the nursing home. Take balloons, candies for a hospital’s children’s ward. Knit a scarf for a homeless person. Donate books to a local school.

Students of Seton Hall University participate in 12 Acts of Christmas Kindness Movement. Coca Cola has extended its Open Happiness campaign with Give a Little Happiness spot in which Santa presides over friends, family and strangers carrying out various acts of kindness. Marks & Spencer’s has launched The Two Fairies campaign where two playful fairies, Magic & Sparkle, spread festive cheer to real people via Twitter.

Treating workers on long hospital night shifts, salvaging failed dinner plans and rescuing rain-soaked commuters are just a few of the little acts the duo have undertaken to brighten up individuals’ days.

I have not pledged to RACK, nor do I know the two fairies bringing joy to real life people. For me, Christmas is a pay-it-forward moment for all the kindness that life has bestowed on me. I do not attend mass. I wear no Santa caps. I know no hallelujahs. I do not kneel in a church. I do not beseech the Lord for a gift for myself. Every December 25, I wake up early, cook a lavish meal. Not for family or friends. But for people who touch my life everyday. The maid. The car cleaner. The garbage picker. The watchman. The old man who sells flowers. I cook for them. That day, the door of my house is open. They sit in my living room and eat warm food. That is my Christmas. To live life in gratitude. To thank those who deserve the most thank yous. Jesus Christ knows that of me. That’s how He wanted us to be. To give. To share. Merry Christmas!

Christmas treats around the world

Albania: Walnut and pumpkin pie
Belgium: ‘Cougnou’ (sweet bread in the form of Infant Jesus)
Canada: Gingerbread in the form of a gingerbread home or gingerbread man
Chile: ‘Pan de Pascua’ (sponge cake flavoured with cloves, candied fruits, raisins, walnuts and almonds)
Iceland: ‘Mondlugrautur’ (rice pudding with almonds hidden inside)
The Philippines: ‘Bebingka’ (dessert made with rice flour, sugar, clarified butter and coconut milk)
Serbia: ‘Cesnica’ (soda bread baked with a silver coin for good health and luck)
Poland: Twelve dishes are served as a reminder of 12 Apostles. The meal begins when the first star is seen, and an extra plate is always laid for an unexpected guest
Germany: ‘Christollen’ (a fruitcake)
Czech Republic: Pea or fish soup and fried fish served with potato salad.

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