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The Stuffing of Christmas

Holly and candy, little snowman out on the lawn with a carrot for a nose, mistletoe on the front door (hoping that you might just get lucky when one of those cute friends drop over), Christmas anywhere outside of Dhaka.

Here, it's a lot different; for one thing, the children don't really look forward to Santa coming over in the night to drop over a sock full of goodies.

Ivan Hazra, a 16-year-old O Level student tells us that Christmas is a special day, but not quite as frenetic and jolly as you see on TV.

For one thing, Santa comes over on the 16th of December instead of Christmas Eve and the kids to get to meet a really ethnic version Claus and ask him for that cool toy car with the red flame vinyl work.

RS: So, what's the program for Christmas day?
Ivan: We wake up early, go to the church before eight because that's when the congregation starts, afterwards there's music and dancing and everything. It's a lot like a fair. Oh yeah, we also get new clothes to show off.

According to Ivan, the turkey is actually non-existent, and also overrated according to a friend who's had some, but that's a different matter (he wanted more spice).

To most young Christians, Christmas here means a day where you get to hang out with friends and roam the city, and Ivan tells us it's a lot like Eid because they kind of get this Christmas “bokshish”; and a lot of candy to give the dentists something to celebrate as well.

When we asked him about the Christmas dinner, which is always a big event, they told me it's totally unlike the things you might see on some Hollywood flick.

The specialty is a Bengali cuisine lovingly made with a lot of extra Christmas cheer (and spices).

We also got to talk to Theotonious Gomes and from him we got the village version of what Christmas is like.

According to Theo, if Christmas in Dhaka is a lot like Eid, in the villages it's a lot like a puja, with pithas and other traditional sweets dispensed around.

And the congregation on Christmas takes place an on midnight on Christmas Eve, and people flock to the church for prayers.

Fairs, carnivals aren't uncommon as well.
Here in Dhaka, like we got from Ivan, the celebrations don't always take place on Christmas. Theotonious let us know that there are organizations that hold plays, dramas (Nativity scene maybe?) and sometimes even caroling with enthusiastic young boys and girls taking place. Most of the time these take either before or after Christmas.

Theo tells us that sometimes kids even go door to door to raise money for Christmas funds, not unlike Halloween. And in the Old Town, there are Bake a Cake contests, and family gatherings with traditional Christmas cakes. Other than that, there are well-publicized concerts and disco parties (with extremely exorbitant entrances fees… and for some reason the ladies always get to get in free).

To those with a bit more money to spend have parties they can attend at places like Radisson, which has an authentic tree, but for most cash strained kids it's usually out of the picture.

But for most of the people, Christmas is actually about the family getting together to celebrate. And usually, most of the celebrations are bordered around meeting relatives and in general, amassing a lot of 'bokshis' from aunts and uncles.

So for the uninitiated, Christmas isn't so boring here. We might not have the decorated trees, snow and the whole festivities, but we have everything to make it special nonetheless. Spices for one thing. Spices are good. And cardboard Christmas trees.

By Tareq Adnan

Winter-Deshi style

The schools start closing, life becomes less busy, all the 'bideshi' channels start having a riot about Christmas, if you are a January exam candidate then you start freaking out, and that is when you know winter is here. Winter no longer is recognized by the 'cold' because no longer does it bring frosting cold (like 8degrees), and the afternoons are usually similar to summer. You would think that the winters in the countryside would have some difference, but no! There are actually reasons that would enable you to fall in love with winter in the countryside. Really.

The mornings and the nights
Imagine driving on a plane of cloud where there is only puff of white and white on the body of the ebony night. You would feel like a cloud angel, and the biting cold would make you feel being a part of another world. The nights in the countryside are still like that, (thank God!) and the view you see is unimaginable. And speaking of the mornings, when you are in the countryside you usually get up early in the dawn due to the extremely annoying screech of the rooster. The dawn is not your usual dawn (usual dawn: 7am, if you are in the major group of waking up at twelve in the afternoon), so you would have the strong want of killing that rooster and your grandmother wont let you. Grab a cup of that special tea and sit on the porch with a blanket wrapped around you, or just simply take a walk, and enjoy! And for the nights, it is not the best idea to be walking around since the fog can do some serious damage to your immune system and leave you coughing for the rest of your days, so sit in your house, preferably beside the kitchen where you can enjoy the smell of the ember, or make a bonfire.

The afternoons
By afternoon the countryside gets all warm, yet chilly. It's great, since you get the flavor of both summer and winter, and this is the time where you get out seeing the fields. You will get to see the variety of veggies, and most importantly, you'd get to see the shinning yellow mustard fields. The flowers bloom and turn the land into a heaven of lime yellow splendor, and you might see that crispy brown palm tree, that produces a syrup which is cooked to make brown sugar. The palms often host wild bees which make a lovely and fragrant yellow honey from the mustard flowers. Later on, you can go bird watching…its more entertaining than it sounds…Just don't forget to apply sunscreen before you go on your epic journey!

The evenings
The environment is very charming at this time; you get to enjoy countryside and winter to the fullest at this time. The cold starts kicking at this time, and the sky gets the combination of a pearly blue colour. The best thing to do is to go to a place which has a lake, or a pond. You could take a boat ride, or just sit on the bank. The peace you get standing beside the riverside is something out of this world. If you haven't tried this before, it is recommended that you put it in the list of the things to do before you die. The smell of the trees and the taste of the frosty wind is something you would not want to miss!

…And the others
If you have a bunch of people around you, then you are up for the best of times. Get out with your family or friends and arrange a game of football cricket or badminton! Ask the ladies to join and make the play exciting and competitive, since you would be having all the space you could be asking for. You could take some time taking pictures and enjoy a little nature photography! (and some of you take it for the sake of facebook…) Make sure you take some time to have the amazing 'sheeth er peetha'. You can check out the melas, and get souvenirs for people back home!

Spend your winters and your vacation, true Bangali style. Even if the chickens are everywhere, even when you pee, the countryside is a great place to enjoy winter! If your exams are ahead, then I deeply sympathize, and curse the people who get to enjoy winter in the countryside. Other than that, take full advantage of winter, and have a great time!

By Raida Kifait Reza
Photos by Andalib Rubayat Pantha

Of Weddings and Rituals

November-December has forever been marked in the Bangladeshi calendar, (often with red ink to keep track of the numerous ceremonies), as the wedding season. Bangladeshi weddings are probably so much fun because they're filled with unique and mind-bogglingly fun rituals; and there are so many other ceremonies preceding a wedding that there's definitely no dearth of rituals.

It starts with the paan-chini, when a formal proposal of the marriage is brought to the bride's family from the bridegroom's side. It's known as paan-chini because the elders bring paan and sweets and have prolonged discussions with the bride's family in order to fix arrangements and dates.

Enter the engagement. When someone is getting engaged, the family has to invite everyone personally, because if they don't, there are going to be ego clashes and indirect taunts. The bride may be made to wear her engagement ring either by the groom or his father. The girl has to wear a tabij before the wedding which is supposed to 'protect' her from the evil eye, and the bride and groom cannot sit together before Akht. 2 weeks before the wedding, the girl cannot go out from her house without a guardian. Sometimes, during the engagement, the groom and his friends play a prank on the bride by giving her a flower which promptly bursts into a pool of glitter when she holds it.

Colourful and fun, the gaye holud is usually the festival where almost everyone loses it.There's music, dance and mayhem. The bridegrrom's family sends sweets, fish and other gifts to the bride's family, and vice versa. Sometimes (when the girl is either allergic or too finicky about getting dirty) beson and dal are used as substitutes of turmeric powder. The to-be bride is usually sheltered by the aanchol of a married woman, which is supposed to be a blessing. Everyone feeds the bride kheer and gives her money, which her cousins and immediate friends later use to throw a grand ceremony of their own.

From the holud to the actual wedding, the bride has to wear a particular saree which is given from the bridegroom's side.

During the rusmot, the bride's orna is put on the groom's head and after surah recitation, the bride and groom are allowed to look at each other through a mirror. This is one ritual that the author has never witnessed. Apparently it's bad luck for anybody else to look at the mirror or use it ever again, so the mirror is packed securely and given to the bride after the ceremony.

Before the bride enters her new home, her feet are washed with alta and milk. Sometimes, after this, the groom's family plays a game by mixing milk and petals in a large bowl and throwing in rings thrice to see whether the bride or the groom wins the game the most number of times.

All these rituals aren't necessarily followed by every family. There are different variations, and that's what makes the prolonged Bangladeshi wedding so enjoyable for those of us who're there as guests. As for those who organize it, we suspect it is a different story altogether.

By Anika Tabassum



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