As December comes to a close, it marks the beginning of festivities and enjoyment. 25th of December is that magical day where the party refuses to cease. Owing to the commercialization of the Yule, the spirit of Christmas and the traditional practices are slowly dying out. Goa too, has been swept over by the winds of change.
Traditionally, the preparations of Christmas began when November was in the twilight and December was setting in. This time found the youngsters of the house busy with the ‘star’. The star was made of bamboo sticks with folio or star-paper covering it and was illuminated by a divo (lamp) or a candle. Every evening, the star was lowered to light the divo and then gently raised to its ‘exalted’ position with the help of a pulley.
The ghotto or the crib was the next task to complete. Nachnnem or millets were sown earlier so that they would sprout and beautify the scene of the stable in which Christ was born. It was also at this time that the house was painted and the floor had a fresh coat of shenn or cowdung. Branches of sullarukh or pine became a suitable substitute for a Christmas tree, complete with cotton, cards and other hangings.
By the time 15th of December approached, the preparations of kunsvar, which evolved from the Portuguese word ‘consoada’, began. This kunsvar consisted of a host of delicious sweets ranging from mandares, usually the first to be prepared, nevreos, kolkol, dodol and ghons, some kind of a white jalebi of sugar syrup and tender coconut mounted on star-paper.
The women in the neighbourhood helped each other with the preparations of the sweets, taking turns each day at different houses. The task of making nevreos always started with a cross-shaped nevri, which was eaten when the last bits of sweets were consumed.
Crib and star decorating competitions were (and are still) organized by the church. Two or three days before Christmas, many carol singing groups moved about in the village.
On the eve of Christmas, faithful attended the mid-night mass. My parents recall of walking to the church in the cold night of Christmas eve along with many fellow villagers, everyone dressed in their festive best. The men wore suits and the women had shawls draped around to protect them from the cold.
In the morning people sent trays of kunsvar to neighbours and friends, as a token of love and happiness. This tray was covered with crocheted or embroidered napkins. A tray given was never sent back empty. The recipient replenished it with something from his home in return. If any family was mourning, in the true spirit of Christmas, neighbours and relatives were the first ones to give kunsvar to the bereaved family.
Times have changed and so has Christmas. Maybe there are no stars that need light from a divo anymore, or the Japanese paper lanterns called lampianv-s, but the message and wonder of Christmas is still the same.
(A Version of this article appeared on GOA PLUS, a weekly supplement of the Times of India and the Economic Times, dt: December 22, 2007)