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Editorial: Keeping festive spirit intact
It seemed like the last straw to a festive season marked by an abundance of shopping and gifting, and conspicuous by the absence of actual human connection.
Pope Francis, during his last Sunday blessing and address before Christmas, called out how the holy day which marked the birth of Jesus Christ had been ‘kidnapped’ by consumerism. The Pontiff’s remarks came in the backdrop of widespread criticism that emerged after an unorthodox nativity scene was put up in St Peter’s Square. The display that included figurines vaguely resembling characters such as Darth Vader, from the sci-fi opera Star Wars, found no mention in the Pope’s speech, never mind the fact that the figurines were created years before the release of the first film.
Having drawn attention towards the manger in Bethlehem where there was only reality, poverty, and love, the Pope urged people to think of those who have nothing. It was a timely reminder when one considers the commercial hoopla surrounding any festival, in the West or even in India. Take the example of Santa Claus, an imaginary figure who has been modelled over the image of St Nicholas, considered the patron saint of children. A poem called The Night Before Christmas, first published anonymously in 1823, was responsible in many ways for conjuring the image of Father Christmas, as we know him today and even the ideas concerning gift-giving during the season.
Interestingly, Thomas Nast, an American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist, who created the political symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party (GOP), also was the brain behind the modern version of Santa Claus, an image solidified, thanks in no small measure to advertising, media and children’s books.
To keep the wheels of commerce spinning, and the joys of childhood alive, it seems convenient to leave behind a glass of milk and cookies on the eve of Christmas, rather than make the child aware that it’s possibly the parents themselves who are endlessly toiling to keep the gifts ready in the morning. There are parallels in the Indian scenario as well, as we experienced a month ago when Deepavali came knocking. How perplexed was the nation – when it had to choose between cleaner air and healthier lungs, as opposed to a firecracker-smoke-filled atmosphere, while we were being pummelled by the pandemic and its accompanying respiratory risks?
That the government did not have a safety net for the fireworks industry seems to be a moot point, as few sectors in the country had any Plan B.
But the notion of crackers has nothing to do with Deepavali. In the medieval ages, it was a royal indulgence at best. Post-independence, enterprising Tamilians in Sivakasi turned the Chinese innovation of sparklers and bottle rockets into a national priority, and a multi-million-dollar business, come November every year. We even branded them to keep up with the times – in an unholy union of pop culture, mythology, and technology – Rajini Rockets, Lakshmi Bombs, and Facebook Pattaasu.
The quest for contemporising has trickled into South India’s Navaratri celebrations too. The tradition of Golu during Dussehra that involves the thematic exhibition of handicraft dolls and figurines about various mythological stories and daily life scenes from the home front have gotten modern makeovers. Everything from a Ganesha working on a laptop to even Krishna brandishing a cricket bat instead of a flute, have made their way into popular consciousness, and become the new normal. One presumes it’s just going with the tide. But the festive season is no time to nit-pick over cultural appropriation. India’s own festivals cutting across different religions, including Ramzan and Gurparb, advocate a culture of community, sharing, and generosity, values that must not be forgotten amid all the shopping and decorations. Now, let’s go get some cake.
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