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Christmas, even for an Indian family like ours, was always a time to celebrate the special ‘thing’ called family. We would be home from boarding school for a too-short two-week Christmas vacation, in which at least one trip to the bedazzling and breathtakingly lit-up Park Street, Kolkata and several spongy, creamy pastries from Flurys would be a must.

Later, as grown-up kids, we would attend the swish and happening parties at one of the many elite social clubs like Calcutta Club or Saturday Club, trying to look cool in our best dresses, yet gobbling down Brandy Snaps and Mustard Sausages on Sticks with no cares in the world.

Back then on Christmas Eve, with thumping hearts and a sheepish smile, we would tiptoe out of our beds into the cold winter night, just long enough to hang up our oft-worn school socks on the corner of the mosquito net, before diving back into the cavernous quilts with our pajama-clad bottoms – a ritual that is still followed when at home! Never in all those years did we ever think of waking up to check who Santa was, or when he would come. And come he would, whether you had been a good girl and done your homework on time, or, had pissed off your Math teacher enough for him to demand a meeting with your parents in the middle of the week… Nope, Santa ALWAYS came, because he believed that ANY good you had done in the year needed to be rewarded! Don’t you just love Santa??

Come Christmas morning, and we would pounce on our dangling socks with sleepy eyes and eager fingers. As our fingers closed around something delightful and intriguing, there would be yelps of joy all around. Mostly it would be money, fair amounts of it, cos Santa believed in ‘free will’ and trusted our judgment to decide what was best for us, and what we needed most 😉

But there were times when an expressly expressed desire meant for the right ears would fall on the right ears and one would excitedly retrieve one’s hand from the sock to reveal a Mouthorgan, or a Wing Sung fountain pen (back when Chinese products meant precision at low cost!)… Or maybe even a Tamagotchi?

Last year, back in Kolkata, we had a house full of relatives and friends during Christmas, all gathered to congratulate and dote over my newly wed sister and her brand new Italian husband. I think most of them wanted to assure themselves that he was not a gun-toting Mafia member, while others were curious enough about the origins of Pizza and Pasta to make the long journey from different parts of the country, and even abroad 😉 Whatever the reason, the intention was to celebrate familial bonds with a gusto… the house was bubbling with laughter, gossip, jiggery-pokery and happy memories shared between long-lost cousins from three generations!

The little pine plantling from a few years ago, now a strapping 6-footer amongst the blushing red Coleus and the swooning Bird of Paradise plants on the balcony, bravely held up all the glittering and colourful baubles, including little red stockings (not school socks this time!) with names of all the ‘kids’. And every time our nonagenarian Grandma would call a name, that person would have to pick out his or her stocking from the tree, do a little crazy jig for everyone and give a faux-formal acceptance speech! By the time the third speech was done, we were all in splits and literally rolling with laughter under the Christmas tree. That’s what a real Christmas is all about!

This year, things may not have been as boisterous, but the gathering of friends at lunch at Mangia Fuori (formerly Mangi Ferra in Juhu, Mumbai) was in the right spirit and mood to celebrate being together for years, and for many more years to come. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to know that the happy, smiling faces sitting around the table – it was groaning under the weight of Roast Turkey, Gnochhi, King Prawns, Spaghetti with Salmon, Christmas Pudding, Tiramisu and tall jugs of Sangria! – comprised a surrogate family, the most precious gifts that Santa could have given me! Here’s hoping your own stocking-fulls of friends are as compulsively entertaining, impossibly irritating, infuriatingly meddling but constantly unwavering in their loving presence in your life! Ho Ho Ho 🙂