Thursday, December 28, 2006


To study only how Christians in India celebrate Christmas would be to learn almost nothing about this nation of contrast and variety, in which Christians are only a tiny portion of a vast population. In a nation of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims, traditions of faith and culture often become interwoven. When the Christians in southern India light small clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes at Christmas time to show their faith, they are mirroring the tradition honored by Hindus earlier in the year at Diwali, the festival of lights. As in many nations, Christmas in India has also become a secular and commercial holiday, familiar to many non-Christians through media depictions.

For me, learning about India was almost sensory overload. India is a visual delight from the image of the white and stately Taj Mahal rising against a cerulean sky, to the Bengal Tiger
moving like a shadow through tall grass. A peacock fans his gaudy tail in a courtyard garden. A woman in a colorful sari paints rangoli on the walls of her home. These intricate designs known as the "prayers of India" highlight the beauty and cleanliness of one's home and are thought to please the deities.

India is also a fragrant pleasure from the scent of Nag Champa, burned as incense or inhaled directly from the delicate ginger flower, to the taste of curry and other spices rising from the cooking pot. Prior to studying India, our idea of Indian food was mostly "Country Captain Chicken" from the trusty old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook Limerick and I received as a wedding gift - a recipe which is "almost Indian" because it contains curry powder. During 2003, we tried a variety of other Indian foods, ate lots of the Chapatis we had learned to make during our study of Kenya, and become used to the delicious aroma of homemade Chai lingering in the air.

There are several of our adopted countries that I would love to revisit, particularly some of the early countries which we studied when the children were too young to delve very deep, and when we were primarily concerned with learning about their Christmas traditions. Chief among these is India, though we did dig as deeply as we could, because there is so much more to learn.

I do revisit India occasionally by reading a favorite young adult fiction, Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan. Or more tangentially, by watching Bend it Like Beckham and eating Indian food, which is visiting India via Great Britain but lots of fun nevertheless. This one is more of a stretch (bad pun intended): I do yoga on quiet mornings, alone in my living room, and somehow that links me to India too. However far-fetched the connections, we never completely leave behind these countries on we've focused. They become too real and vivid on our internal map of the world to leave behind.

photos by Aisling, December 2006

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