Christmas is as much a part of Bangalore as the name Bangalore in itself, but the festival has changed immensely over the last few years. The Guide speaks to three generations of a family loyal to the city over generations and finds out what the festival means to them
The Gnanakans are as old as several areas in the city are and are one of the first few families to move into the Koramangala area. Koramangala was then on the outskirts of the city and the Gnanakans have celebrated many a Christmas in their charming house close by Jyothi Nivas college. The house has seen many changes but the warmth of the green foliaged home has always remained the same. We decided to visit the family a few days before Christmas and get them to tell us what this bright yet wintry festival means to them. Different perspectives over the generations quite clearly showed us how the city has evolved, but the most interesting parts were the reminisces. Here are some of the fun stories of growing up with Christmas that they shared with us.
Ken Gnanakan, grandfather
When I was growing up in Bangalore, the city was gradually getting away from the old British ways of celebrating the festival. The Christian community was consciously trying to celebrate more Indian Christmases, the food styles were changing and it was a period where you would see Indian sweets and dishes taking over from the wine and plum cake regulars. So my childhood saw a very desi Christmas, where thindi’s (as the snacks are called in Kannada) were in fashion.
More recently however, I’ve seen a return to the old British customs. Almost like present day India wants to look back at the British era and be influenced all over again. For example, when I was growing up, it was only a group of very select people, probably with western leanings, who knew about turkey. The rest of us knew that people ate the bird, but always connected it to the west.
Now, however, due to several reasons, globalization being the foremost, such previously ‘foreign’ practices are now as Indian as they could possibly be. I think the new generation prefers this new way of celebrating too, as it’s the ‘in’ thing to be American or European all over again.
The only problem I have however is that Christmases across the world are losing their local charm. It’s funny to see how similar the festival is all across the world these days. We could blame the Chinese for that though (laughs). They’ve single handedly taken over the whole Christmas décor business. But then again, the music seems to be the same the world over too, so we can’t really blame them completely, can we?
To summarize, I think I’ve seen Christmas change from a more Indian festival into a more global one today. Another problem that we’re seeing is the rise of the fundamentalist. People are afraid to say what they really want to say, even during a festival. Rowdy elements seem to be at their peak today, so one can’t really blame the police for clamping down on parties.
Once upon a time, we used to get back home really late during this season. 2 am was early and carol singing went on all night and into the early mornings. Everything seems to have changed.
Malls seem to make it look very nice with all the big displays, which is fine, but what’s scary is the loss of tradition, the loss of what Christmas used to be, the loss of the Indian Christmas. Santa Clause seems to have taken over the imagination of everyone, but what he actually stands for has been lost in the popularity bargain. The actual message of the birth of Christ seems to have been forgotten, sadly.
Ken’s Christmas message: The real message of Christmas is to take the love of God through Jesus to the world.
Prema Gnanakan, grandmother
I grew up in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, during an extremely British influenced period. Our Christmas was very western. For my twin sister and me, the most interesting thing during the season was to go carol singing for ten days. This was a proper community event and everyone participated — the Hindus, the Buddhists, everyone.
We’d go around inviting ourselves into people’s houses and be fed Marzipan and fresh fruit juices. On Christmas day however, everything would become really solemn, but we’d still have a lot of fun and go to church together and eat together. It was really elaborate and really western though.
Things have changed in Sri Lanka, and in Bangalore too. The joy of celebrating Christmas, which was a non-community based festival, has now become exclusively Christian and there are always trouble causers just waiting to create a nuisance.
We then moved to Mumbai, then Bombay, which was totally different experience, but even there we had Marathi and Gujurati families who’d always be more excited about the festival than us. The roads would be decorated and there would such a lovely sense of celebration, which everyone seemed to be a part of.
We lived in Byculla and in that particular area the celebrations seemed to go on forever. We’d be walking through the streets wishing each other as late as 2 am in the morning and it would still be safe and lots of fun. Bombay was definitely better than Ceylon in that sense.
When it came to Bangalore. I have not seen that much of a change. We moved to the UK for around 6 years in between and when we came back, everything seemed the same. The only difference I see, an that too, more recently, is how busy the present generation is.
Christmas to us was all about spending time with the family and we had a lot of time to do that, especially in this season. That’s changed a lot and so has how much time each family spends with itself. Everyone seems to be so busy these days.
Prema’s Christmas message: This is time for families to get together. It’s a time to invite people to share the joy and warmth of familial bonds and to celebrate the birth of Christ with them.
Anupa Gnanakan, daughter
I’m usually at home during Christmas and so funnily enough, it has always been the same. Yes, we’ve grown older and we now give gifts to each other, but otherwise we’ve celebrated it in the same way as we have since we were kids.
Changes have occurred and I shan’t say I’m oblivious to them. I do see how popular Santa has become and the impressively large number of nativity scenes and cribs around the city does surprise me, but that’s about it.
The meaning of Christmas has surely changed and loads of people do think it’s all about the fun. While I see no harm in that, I would love to see them celebrating it for it the right reason too.
As a single parent however, Christmas has become an amazing time to spend with my two daughters. We get up late, cook together, make Christmas goodies together and bake together. It’s so much fun to go out shopping and eating when you know you’re with your family and know what means fun to them.
Anupa Christmas message: Christmas should be about the birth of our saviour, it should also be about spending time with the family without having anywhere to rush off to. Take a few days off people and please sit at home with your family, that’s the best way to celebrate the season.
Santosh Gnanakan, son:
Christmas has always been the same for me and Bangalore has always been home, at least it’s a home that I remember. My most vivid memory is of growing up to extensive carol singing schedules that would span several days and demanded a lot of energy. It was a period I looked forward to.
As I grew up however I noticed how the time spent on caroling changed and got increasingly lesser. For several reasons, churches and youth groups preferred to carol for fewer hours and on fewer days.
As a family growing older and technically splitting into three families after my sister and me were married, we also seemed to somehow miss out on the yearly Christmas day trips that we religiously went for when we were much younger. This might have been because we took on newer responsibilities and a lot more organizing was required, but the change was obvious.
The other changes are the most obvious ones. Christmas is now more in your face, thanks to marketers who love to squeeze the festival of all that it can do for their sales. What changes in this case however is that, a more affluent population that loves to look west for all influence, makes the Christmas of the west more popular.
Is that wrong? I’m not too sure. I think it’s more about understanding what these symbols mean instead. Santa Claus might be more popular than he should be, but the problem is when he ceases to exist as a person and just becomes a meaningless symbol.
As a person, he’s in equal right to be associated with the festival; after all he was a Saint who wanted to celebrate the birth of Christ too. The secret is therefore to make these related symbols as relevant as they should be.
Santosh’s Christmas message: You need to put in that extra effort to demonstrate the love of the season. Go out, take that extra step and get your hands dirty, if you must, but do something.
Christobelle Joseph Gnanakan, daughter in law
Christmas has changed every year. The essence has changed for me too, because when I was much younger it was about the festivity and about family more than anything else. Eating was huge part of it and even though we are Anglo-Indians, my grandmother’s family had by then become quite Indian.
We too had kalkals and rose cookies like every other Christian family around us, but yes, we also had the extra few traditions like midnight mass and cake and wine soon after. Contrary to popular notions, most Anglo’s are quite sober all through the season. It is usually just wine and no booze. So, ‘no cross dangling around one’s neck as they walk the streets intoxicated’ here. It was a family time, when people from all over the world came back home because it was Christmas.
For my family however, Easter was the bigger celebration and for good reason. We celebrated Easter more splendidly because our father was at home at that time every year. Now, however as a much older and wisened person, I know it’s about the cross. The reason for the season is now much more than Jingle Bells and Santa Claus.
My only fear though is that Christmas might soon evolve into the ‘holiday season’ as it has abroad. The festival is getting more popular, but at the cost of the real message being ignored. Maybe the fault’s with us as Christian families. Maybe, we’ve not been able to get the right message across and that’s surely something that we have to be worried about.
Christobelle’s Christmas message: It’s all about peace. Jesus is the prince of peace to all of us and his message at the end of the day is all about peace. Shalom or Salaam, it’s all about peace at the end of the day.
Tabeah Gnanakan, granddaughter
Christmas to me is about the birth of Jesus Christ. I love the late night services at church and spending time at home
Keyah Gnanakan, granddaughter
Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and I love the cooking, shopping and everything about it. most of all, I love making the crib.
Tara Gnanakan, granddaughter
Christmas is about the tree and the chocolates and the biscuits and the chocolate cake.