Friday, December 24, 2010
Like India, the United States is a secular country that celebrates diversity. Nevertheless, the period surrounding December 25 (Christmas) is an important time when Americans celebrate together. Christmas has become a shorthand label for a whole range of traditions and practices, most of which bear no relation to Christianity or the celebration of the birth of Christ, which is the formal reason for celebration of the Christmas holiday: what we call a Christmas tree dates back to pre-Christian winter solstice celebrations in Europe; and candle lighting ceremonies and roving bands of singers have become associated with Christmas, but do not originate with it.
While there is some controversy in the United States about referring to this whole set of holiday traditions as making up a Christmas season, and there is even more concern about how the holiday has been transformed into a major marketing opportunity, most Americans cherish their holiday traditions. It doesn’t really matter if they are celebrating Christmas, or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or the New Year—American families gather together and share cheer during the holiday season.
At the Consulate, we Americans have been heartened by the way our Indian colleagues have enthusiastically joined us in carrying out the secular aspects of the American celebration of the holidays. We are having a desk-decorating contest, our talented colleagues went caroling around the office, and we’ll be visited by Santa Claus during our office holiday party.
I have vivid memories of the Christmases I’ve spent in many different countries since I joined the Foreign Service. I’ll always remember the beautiful voice of a jazz singer in hot and humid Georgetown, Guyana, singing about a “winter wonderland.” I cherish the Christmas Eve dinners I celebrated in Kinshasa, with fresh oysters among the delicacies flown in from Belgium for the occasion. I look forward to adding memories of Christmas in India to this collection.