When i was about 8, our family moved in as tenants to this lovely cottage in a happy neighbourhood called Mawpun near Pynthorumkhrah, the bigger and easily identifiable landmark being the hallowed and historical Golf Links.Each home was unique.If our landlady was obsessed about rare roses in this world, our Garo neighbour grew corn and dahlias, while our Khasi neighbour had the loveliest orchids and perfect greens - i remember, Mom even bought many bunches of healthy mustard leaves ( all for 2 rupees) for lunch and dinner from the old dame. Her grandchildren visited her every Friday - Christabelle, Annabelle and Euphraim. We became weekend friends. The girls had absolutely rosy cheeks.Euphraim had curly locks.Their granny would try catching hold of them and apply coconut hair oil on their hair - she felt they never took care of their mane.
I celebrated my first proper Christmas with them that winter. Otherwise Christmas was always part of my winter holidays when we visited Police Bazar and admired the aroma of cakes and bakes that wafted in the air. Some old men sold branches of pine and fir for last minute Christmas trees. The imported Chinese made foldable and re-usable ones had not invaded the market then. Christmas to me, was the cards (some which were hand-drawn) that classmates and friends gave.One would decorate those cards for a long time or staple them into a nice arrangement. Christmas was singing carols in school the entire month of November and looking forward to that class-party of chips, cakes and juice. It was always great to count the number of beautiful stars outside the porches of my neighbours, the bigger and more colorful, my innocent mind thought, they must be rich! It never snows in Shillong which makes Christmas very different and warm.
Chris and Anna, and some other new friends asked me to join them in a Nativity play for the Christmas Eve celebrations at the local church. My folks gave me permission since i loved acting. I played an old lady who goes ecstatic at the news of the birth of Baby Jesus and i was taught to sing - "I've got the joy in my heart!" I went out for the neighbourhood carol singing, all layered and armoured with socks and mittens, jackets and mufflers.It was chattering cold but so much of fun and excitement. Every home treated us to lovely goodies.On Christmas eve, I remember taking my costume and bunking at Chris's granny's place. The dinner was simple but very delicious. I remember Chris's youngest aunt coming and instructing us to keep our stockings ready (yeah, even i could keep one) because Santa was in town! We were like yay!But we also exchanged doubtful smiles. I dint have a stocking ready - or even a fancy pair of socks. In greeting cards, those stockings and socks looked so good and colorful. Felt relieved to know,Chris and Anna also dint have theirs. Their eldest aunt, who worked as a nurse told us not worry and that we could tie plastic bags, the bigger the better.We all managed bits and strands of strings of wool to tie our plastic bags on the Christmas tree which was in the drawing room, nicely lit and decorated.We got back to our rehearsals and totally forgot about the Santa goodies.
Midnight mass was over, we all wished Merry Christmas to one another. Neighbours who only existed became friends - those warm hugs, the winter chill was magical. We came home and Anna reminded us to collect our Santa gifts. Very endearingly, she hoped the gifts must have arrived. We were not disappointed. While the elders were getting ready to retire for the night we were busy tearing our gift-wrapped packets with shrieks not forgivable at that unearthly hour. But all is forgotten in Christmas.I received a pair of lovely dainty hair clips which i preserved for the longest time. Someone played Santa, so i thought coz i really dint have a wishlist. But like all polite girls, I said, thank you and smiled.
The next day, i accompanied Chris and Anna and attended the morning mass, came home. My family joined them for lunch. Lots of cakes and biscuits, sweets and goodies. Post-Christmas was even more fun. There was a community feast. All the youngsters cooked for the whole neighbourhood.The love and warmth, the sharing of joy and happiness with everyone around - that is what Santa gave me actually. After that, i remember there were smiles for the rest of the year, everyone was a friend.
Suddenly, all of us grew up. The weekend visits were fewer. We moved out to the office quarters, away from the idyllic settings of Golf Link. We would meet Chris and Anna once in a while, while shopping. Our excited hellos were immediately restrained because we were big girls accompanied by elders.Many winters have passed by. Wherever Chris and Anna are in Shillong, have a blessed Christmas!Thank you for bringing Santa into my life!