As Christmas is nearing, I am seeing various advertisements for pre-packed hampers and baskets for gifting. This is quite a new initiation for Kohima and my reaction was, “How convenient!”. I told my husband about these enterprises, expecting a similar reaction. He said, “Do you mean Christmas is becoming even more commercialized in Kohima?” I reluctantly mumbled a “Yes”. This short conversation made me think how gifting such a thing would be quite the break from the traditional in my parents’ house.
I don’t remember our parents ever buying Christmas gifts for other people. True, they never had much to spare after buying new clothes for all their seven children. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t gift Christmas presents to loved ones. My earliest memories of Christmas will be visiting near and dear one’s houses and handing them little bundles saying, “Mother gave for Christmas.” If father had sent me, it would be “Father gave for Christmas.” The little bundles usually consisted two things. Either deep fried sticky rice snacks or big pieces of cooked pork. Both very traditional and very delicious.
The snack was prepared by hand-grounding the sticky rice into flour in a pounder which father carved out from a big piece of wood. We would help mother a little, but I guess we were actually just delaying this tedious process. Mother would prepare the ingredients and then fry hundreds of these snacks almost single handedly without complaining ‘much’. I often wondered why she couldn’t choose an easier, more ‘convenient’ snack to prepare though I never dared to tell her. She doesn’t make hundreds anymore, but she still makes some from time to time and each time she pounds the rice into flour herself. At any given day, I would choose our traditional indigenous sticky rice roti over the most expensive cake.
Each year my parents also obtained several kilograms of pork. Father would be in-charge of the meat. He would cook the pork in a huge pot for hours using only the traditional ingredients – salt, dry chilly and ginger. A lot of wood burnt on such a night. If the meat was cooked early, the task of the children started that night itself but if not, we’d deliver the meat with its solidified fats packed in green leaves the next day. Meat is incredible important in my land and gifting meat signifies highest regard and affection. We gift and share cooked or raw meat when we are happy as well at sad times. To this day, they still love to share meat with loved ones for Christmas.
Another tradition that mother upheld during this season was re-gifting the decorated commercial cakes that we received from others. She disliked icing and none of her children were too fond of it either. Before giving these cakes away to anybody, she would first ask whether they (whoever) liked such cakes and if they would eat it. Baking cakes at home is a very recent trend for us. Rarely anybody from our parents’ generation knew how to bake and so our generation is only now learning from Cook Books and TV shows, YouTube and occasionally from each other. I remember how impressed she would be whenever somebody gifted a home-baked cake. She found it hard to throw even experimental cakes.
Mother didn’t dislike all cakes. I will be right to say that she just didn’t like the parts that were sold. One of her brothers owned a bakery so, in the month of December, she would visit his bakery to order or pick the parts of a cake that were unfit for selling – the tops and the sides. I know why she loved them because everyone of us loved those burnt slices too. She would be most disappointed if it was sold out and would even scold the bakers a little. But if she could lay her hands on a few kilograms, she would bring them home and distribute them with neighbors. I am now thinking that some people might have found it difficult to understand why she was sharing burnt bits and pieces of cakes.
Regardless of whether it turns out well or not, regardless of whether the people liked our gifts, our parents always gave the best they could. Our gifts weren’t expensive or fancy, but they were infused with love and good wishes. I now know that the excitement with which we watched them prepare the snacks and how we impatiently waited to deliver the bundles actually brought out the Christmas spirit in our home. That was how we would begin the celebrations for the festive season.