Nothing a lot has modified in Goa for the reason that French adventurer François Pyrard de Laval spent the vacation season right here over 400 years in the past.
“All of the streets are then hung with lanterns,” he writes, within the account of his escapades first printed in 1611. “On Christmas Day, in all of the church buildings are represented the mysteries of the Nativity, with numerous characters and animals. Everybody goes to see it. Even in a lot of the homes and on the cross-streets they do the identical; it’s a prettier sight at that season there, than right here (in Europe).”
Rocket ahead into 2021 and I really feel precisely like that long-extinct Frenchman. After lengthy a long time assimilating within the nice cities of the West, the place I’ve skilled one hyper-commercial Christmas after one other in Paris, London and New York, it’s my agency conviction that the end-of-the-year celebrations are unbeatably gracious and significant on this historic slice of the Konkan shoreline. To make sure, there isn’t practically as a lot gloss, however that’s greater than made up for with bonhomie and real joie de vivre. Better of all is that there aren’t any bounds to the happiness. Everybody of all ages from each group shares the enjoyable in full measure. Pleasure to the world? It’s the very essence of Christmas in Goa.
“No one is unnoticed of the vacation spirit right here” says Damodar Mauzo, the beloved eminence of Goan letters, who sparked state-wide exultation when he received the Jnanpith Award—the paramount recognition for contributions to Indian literature—earlier this month.
The nice Konkani littérateur spent a long time working his household’s normal retailer within the South Goa beachfront village of Majorda, and each twenty fourth December night with out exception, he says, “I used to shut it to go go to my Catholic associates—no less than 10 properties—and benefit from the seasonal sweets. My favorite is dodol (the jaggery and coconut milk cake that got here to India centuries in the past from South-East Asia) however I additionally love desserts like that made by (his good friend and translator) Xavier Cota’s spouse.”
Mauzo recounts how his household participates in all the small print of the celebrations of their village: “After all, similar to all our neighbours, we grasp a Christmas star within the balcao. My daughters actually love this time of yr, and once they have been rising up, they’d at all times make the crib. After they grew a bit older, they too would generally accompany the opposite kids to Midnight Mass, and loved it very a lot.”
The varied customs that Mauzo is describing comprise the guts of Goan social tradition throughout each sectarian divide: an intensive vary of painstakingly handmade delicacies, adults and youngsters taking the time to crisscross their vaddos (village wards) to go to their neighbours and associates, and the great creativity and craftsmanship spilling over from each family—throughout Ganesh Chaturthi it’s the matoli (ceremonial cover) of fruits and flowers, then the Narakasur effigy on Diwali, adopted by cribs and stars in December.
At Christmas, along with all this, there may be an apex occasion. Every thing and virtually everybody comes collectively on the evening of the twenty fourth to enact the part-solemn, part-giddy-ritual pleasure of dressing your finest and trooping to the parish church for the music-filled service to usher within the nativity. It solely ends within the wee hours of the twenty fifth however nobody heads dwelling regardless of the nippiness of the December evening air. As a substitute, there are solely heat embraces, greetings, lashings of espresso and slices of cake.
Each little bit of that’s open to everybody, and what’s true of the Mauzos in Majorda performs out identically throughout Goa. Right here, the boundary partitions between ostensibly completely different religions have remained conspicuously low, with neighbours unselfconsciously sharing the identical universe of that means in methods that may be incomprehensible to outsiders.
The acclaimed American anthropologist Robert Newman, who first visited Goa in 1965, quickly after the defeat and annexation of Portugal’s 451-year-old Estado da India, and has proceeded to check the state for many years, writes that “although in content material the Catholic and Hindu traditions differ vastly, in type and magnificence they’ve tended to maneuver collectively over the previous few centuries in Goa. There has emerged a particularly Goan model, which has helped forge a typical Goan id regardless of non secular variations.”
Newman notes, “This growth has been extra pronounced among the many decrease castes, however giant numbers of higher-caste Hindus and Catholics additionally participate in sure key non secular festivals, worshipping and honouring the identical deities—specifically, the goddess Shantadurga and several other variations of Our Girl.”
This deep-rooted syncretism permeates all facets of Goan religion practices and may come throughout as surreal, even contradictory, by adherents to orthodoxy. Nonetheless, its highly effective buy is simple: All necessary feasts and festivals at each main website of worship within the state are thronged by honest devotees of each background. Limitless co-mingling is an archetypical characteristic of the tradition, readily evident in music, structure, meals, and each inventive flowering.
Right here, we now have the salutary examples of the nice Goan painters of the twentieth century, like Francis Newton Souza, the livewire modernist who kick-started the Progressive Artists Motion in Mumbai within the Nineteen Forties, whose work of altars bristle with tantric symbology. His shut modern, the nice abstractionist Vasudeo Gaitonde—the 2 associates shared ancestral roots in North Goa—thought of himself a non-denominational follower of St Francis of Assisi.
Maybe most illustrative is the distinctive bridge determine of Angelo da Fonseca, the grandee from the island of Santo Estevam, who studied on the colonial JJ College of Artwork in colonial Bombay round 100 years in the past however stop—and transplanted himself to Bengal—as a result of he “wished to be a shishya of the very best Indian artists of the time”. By the tip of the Twenties in Santiniketan, he was the prized protégé of Nandalal Bose and Abanindranath Tagore and spent the subsequent 4 a long time (he died in 1967) portray an astonishingly lovely oeuvre of Indian Christian iconography that attracts deep from Islamic, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist themes in addition to the Western canon.
Fonseca’s artworks effortlessly signify East and West concurrently, with nice concord. They’re the proper icons for Christmas in extremely cosmopolitan Goa, the place many different conventions have advanced out of borrowings from world wide, which can be derived from centuries of functioning as one of many earliest crucibles for what we name globalisation.
There was an enormous inflow of settlers from different elements of India and the world, most of whom don’t care to take part, and sometimes resent what they understand as native insularity. The Goans themselves have scattered wildly.
In her glorious Cozinha De Goa: Historical past And Custom Of Goan Meals, the historian Fátima da Silva Gracias writes in regards to the emblematic consoada (the unique Portuguese phrase has turn out to be Kuswar in Konkani), the place households labour for weeks to arrange “a plethora of sweets and savories”. These are supposed to “be despatched in small portions on a tray—a bit little bit of every thing ready in the home…coated with a tray-cloth fabricated from crochet or lace. Those that obtained it despatched again sweets ready by them.”
Gracias notes that the competition lunch is often “luxurious”, with “Goan, Malayan, Portuguese and Anglo-Indian recipes blended collectively”. As well as, “Christmas confectionery right here attracts from numerous cultures—Portuguese, Indian, Arabic, Malaysian and Brazilian. The Hindu ‘meals of the gods’ additionally has its personal affect within the type of nevreo, kulkuls and shankarpalis.”
All this may have been completely recognisable to Pyrard de Laval from the early seventeenth century, when he wrote about “tables laid with superb white napery, and coated with all method of sugar-plums, dry comfits, marchpanes, which they name Rousquillos, usual in a thousand methods”.
But when all this stuff are unchanged, what’s completely different in Goa in 2021?
Like in all places else, much less time and extra distractions have diluted the intricate cultural cloth. There was an enormous inflow of settlers from different elements of India and the world, most of whom don’t care to take part, and sometimes resent what they understand as native insularity. The Goans themselves have scattered wildly, and although they do reconvene in substantial proportions at Christmas, it’s usually in an array of hybrid identities: Kiwis and Canadians and Bomboicars sharing the desk.
Personally, I embrace all of it.
So far as I’m involved, it’s completely appropriate that the world involves Goa at Christmas, as a result of Christmas in Goa encompasses the world with nice felicity. When my sons arrange our tree at dwelling, they adorn it with cherished reminders of household scattered on 4 continents, and our personal journey reminiscences from Assam to Kashmir and several other nations. We hearken to vacation music in Konkani, Latin, German and Spanish and reserve cult standing for Run-DMC’s rollicking rap basic, Christmas In Hollis.
Come midnight at Christmas Eve, you’ll usually discover us in Fontainhas, the centrepiece of Previous Panjim, for Midnight Mass on the street in entrance of the traditional St Sebastian’s Chapel. On this attractive Latinate environment, all the encircling homes set out scorching drinks and snacks for celebrants to share afterwards.
There may be laughter, camaraderie and good emotions that final proper till the next yr. You may maintain your Rockefeller Heart and Regent Avenue. Nothing beats Christmas in Goa.
Vivek Menezes is a Goa-based author and photographer.