Editor | Heather Lim
Contributing Writer | Diya Kundu
Photographer | Heather Lim
“Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad…” the familiar tune by José Feliciano reverberates through the overly crowded malls as buyers scramble to choose their Christmas gifts. The toy department of Takashimaya is teeming with parents eager to purchase exorbitantly-priced dolls for their precious little ones. Daiso outlets are stacked with copious amounts of economically-priced ornaments for families eager to adorn their homes at low cost. Shopping malls island-wide are laced with extravagant Christmas decorations–embellished Christmas trees, gleaming lights, Santa sculptures. Our regular Starbucks fix is disrupted by an additional array of drinks from the limited edition festive menu: cinnamon, gingerbread, pumpkin spice. The Christmas festive spirit seems vibrantly alive in Singapore; people prance around the streets with armfuls of gifts for friends and relatives, in seemingly more jovial spirits than usual.
More often than not, I am tempted to be skeptical about this Christmas magic. It feels like yet another money-making gimmick by the capitalists to maximize profits. It is as though the idea of giving has become overly commercialized; gifts are weighed in terms of their monetary value. Yet I still succumb to these gimmicks, hustling from one shop to another in search of gifts, eager to immerse myself in the festive mood. The Christmas celebration is a tradition in my household. Gift exchange is a practice my family has held with our relatives since we were young, started with the intent of making us happy when we were kids. It has continued till now.
But in reality, the celebrations have often not been as glamorous as I endeavored it to be. It is often an overwhelming smorgasbord of both close and distant relatives with differing personalities. A time where I sometimes found myself slightly aggravated when asked several questions which I felt intruded on my privacy. In some years, I found myself scrolling through Instagram in sheer boredom, wishing I was somewhere else with my friends instead and spending a more eventful day.
But in the past few years, my heart has gripped more tightly to the importance of this day. Christmas is the only time that my extended family gathers together, in full strength. Perhaps it is from the realization that my ninety-year old 婆婆’s skin has become stretched over her knobby bones and that her grey dandelion hair almost gone, that my mom’s prior words to me resound so deeply. “Your 婆婆 is very happy when she sees the whole family together. You see, she smiles a lot.”
This Christmas, I watched my 婆婆 let out a hearty chuckle as she beat her grandchildren in a game of mah-jong. I witnessed my younger sisters’ frenzied but meticulous attempt to buy 婆婆 a gift. I saw婆婆’s face light up in exuberant joy as she watched my baby cousin trudge up the stairs for the first time. This Christmas was not much different from the others–my house was equally chaotic, I still was asked several uncomfortable questions. But amidst the hubbub, I think the greatest gift is family. Christmas brings about a feeling of security, reminding me that i have a home to return to.
For Diya Kundu, a festival evokes feelings of fondness is the Pujo festival. She says:
"New Delhi, the capital of India, the place where I grew up, lies about fifteen hundred kilometres west of Bengal, where my parents hail from. Both places and their cultures have always felt like home- distant from one another and yet distinctly mine. Naturally, celebrating the ten-day Bengali festival of Durga Pujo in New Delhi was the perfect merger of the two. When parks in which I prepared for school badminton matches became home to enormous idols of the Goddess Durga and her sisters, my two homes didn't feel that far apart anymore.
During this festival season, I would often take my Delhi friends to explore traditional Bengali heritage- food, clothing, art forms. Fondly cherished moments of discovery and appreciation often transpired. This intimate exchange during Pujo was priceless. I loved it because it was also the time of the year when mum agreed to endless joyrides in the festival fair. But my fondness grew even more over the years as i realised that Durga Pujo was the only festival I knew that celebrated female heroines- their intrepidity and their blazing anger, fuelling their fight against evil. As the world went on decorating women with ornaments and cosmetics, we adorned Goddess Durga and her sisters with weapons for obliterating injustice. My perceptions of the nuances of the festival have evolved, but my love for Pujo has only bloomed.
To me, the occasion is one warm embrace of vibrant festivities, communal gathering, and delectable puchkas. It evokes dear memories and firm principles, basked in warmth and wisdom, that shelter, nurture, and guide. "
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