As December punches the clock and the cold winds in the night kiss our cheeks, the arrival of Christmas season with its profound memories is impossible to not notice; it is in the air. Amid the euphoric feeling, one cannot turn a blind eye to the prevailing reality which questions the mind ‘how merry will Christmas 2020 be?’
'How are we going to celebrate Christmas this year?' I'd asked my better half, sounding a bit worried. Our wedding anniversary and birthdays in 2020 had all fallen in the lockdown period and my already celebration-deprived calendar reflects nothing to cheer for, except Christmas. I guess the case is not exclusive to me.
When there have been months of lockdown and the restrictive unlock process is a work-in-progress, the odds of finding a person with an unaffected plan is highly improbable. Nevertheless, December has been a sliver of hope that helps many to accept missed-celebrations with a consolation that, ‘at least we have Christmas.’
'We will worship the Lord and give thanks to him on Christmas Day,' replied my wife nonchalantly. She added that one's spiritual health should not be affected by physical health. While I am in complete agreement with the aforementioned 'spiritual health', I could not help but remind her that I need to dance and sing merrily in a group, which is obviously not guaranteed as of now. To that, she replied by reminding me of how many festivals like Eid, Diwali, Durga Puja, etc. have been affected and requested me to accept the 'new normal' as many other people from different faiths did.
Post-Christianity, for the tribal in general and my community— Kuki, in particular— Christmas is considered the biggest festival among all the cultural, social, and religious festivals. The celebration includes, after the worship services, an interesting item called 'Lengkhom' which translates as 'get-together'. This get-together mostly involves singing lenkhom-laa (get-together hymns and choruses) and dancing in lam-kol (Group dance). One of the song goes as: ‘Aw lunglhai sel in naosen leng penni hin, kipah in sao te cham leh lung olna’, which loosely translates as 'be gracious on this birthday of the King; let us sing with joy for peace and tranquillity’.
There are many such Christmas songs, the meaning of which underscores how the celebration is rightfully valued. Surely, the once fun-loving community, who then engaged in Chon, Kut and Som-len, etc. has now discontinued most of its traditional merry-making activities and Christmas is, therefore, one such occasion every household, rich or poor, and every individual whether from the village or the city looks up to with different hopes and excitement.
Personally, I have countless memories attached to Christmas. Even now, the advent of Christmas month brings an unexplainable joy in my heart. In days gone by, January to November was considered a “waiting phase” and the arrival of December month would be greeted with oodles of zest. We’d sing our hearts out in Christmas carols, so much so, that our throats, hurt by the extreme singing, would take days to recover. Tea sipped with straws in between the songs during “Lengkhom” (Get-together) had the taste better than the best beverage in the best restaurant. The atmosphere, the laughs, funs and bonhomie were blissful, to say the least. The only spoiler was the ticking clock that didn’t have the emotional consideration and seemed to run at the speed of lightning. How we then wished the clock to stand still! We literally had a merry Christmas. We celebrated in the best possible way we could, to make us happy.
The pandemic in 2020 has catastrophic consequences, but it is the determination to sail through the storms, the hope to have better times again that keeps at least our minds safe from being infected by the Virus. And with the possibility of a Christmas celebration in 2020 without 'Lengkhom' looming large now, it appears what most people had hoped for is to vanish in thin air.
However, this is not to project the stakes to an artificial high and thereby vouch for the celebration perhaps even to the extent of ignoring all guidelines and health directives. The intent is to highlight what the celebration of Christmas really meant to many people like me. Still, all that matters is the undeniable truth that we are faced with something all too different and tough—both mentally and physically. Irrespective of how well-intended is our endeavour, we cannot take the luxury of risking our health and that of others. The commitment will take more than normal talks of accepting the new normal. To understand what we might have to lose to gain our health, which transcends everything. Unthinkable as it may sound and appear, we will have to imagine Christmas without mass gatherings.
On the bright side, vaccines will soon be within reach of the common men, and ignoring the conspiracy surrounding the news that the Virus' second wave is a scam manufactured to boost the sales of vaccines, we have reasons to be optimistic about the days to come. But, till those doses reach us, we will be far better off concentrating on covering our faces in masks than coveting masses to face.
'All these years, you have celebrated Christmas just the way you wanted. Now, should there be any eventuality that Christmas is not celebrated in Church with the masses, why not take that as an opportunity to reach out to Him and seek His happiness; after all, it is His Birthday and a silent fellowship with Him on a silent night is a precious opportunity nobody can lockdown,' said the mother of my two children as we end the discussion that unlocks my realm of thoughts to a new outlook.
I realised it is not the masses that are important in Christmas but Christ and the mass (a service in His memory) that deserve our priority and it is not a big deal to mask our face, as long as we do not mask our hearts. Merry Christmas 2020 to all!
(T S Haokip is a freelance writer and author of the book 'Hilly Dreams'. The views are personal and do not necessarily reflect that of Outlook magazine.)