Gifts, gluttony and the Queen’s speech make a very English Christmas | columns | Hindustan Times
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Gifts, gluttony and the Queen’s speech make a very English Christmas

In England the Queen’s speech is a must. No one remembers what she says and, frankly, it sounds the same each year yet you feel better for hearing it even if you spend your time mimicking her accent or joking about her style and manner. To be honest, that’s affection. The British realise that but try it in India and watch how our beloved politicians miss the point because they lack a sense of humour. What the Brits call wit, we consider anti-national.

columns Updated: Dec 24, 2016 23:28 IST
Santas take part in the Santacon event, London, December 10
Santas take part in the Santacon event, London, December 10(Reuters)

The earliest Christmas I can remember was when I was three. I have a clear recollection of Mummy pointing at a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift that would be given to me the next day. So obviously this must have been Christmas Eve. However, I don’t remember getting the gift or what it was. But the keen pleasure of anticipation has stayed with me ever since. I wonder if that was the first intimation of greed?

In my years in England, Christmas came to be associated with gluttony and, yes, more alcohol than is good for you. I was tempted to buy a million and one goodies to ensure Christmas lunch would be truly special. Each time I would go shopping, I would add to the list. Thereafter, I could never resist the desire to try everything. I’d eat, eat and eat and if I held back there was always someone to tempt and coax with an enticing “go on, it’s Christmas!”

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Like weddings in India, Christmas is a time when inhibitions completely disappear. I have a tuneless, toneless and raucous voice which, thankfully, stops me from singing outside the bathroom, but, during the run up to Christmas, I’ve sung carols with gusto, unafraid to be the loudest or the worst. There’s something about carol singing that makes you want to join and sing along. It’s a karaoke-like experience which, mercifully, never outlasts the Noel.

In Britain Christmas is a family occasion often spent with grandparents. In India it’s a day for a party. Breakfast with the Bissells is an institution in Delhi. The event starts mid-morning with scrambled eggs, baked beans and ham or stollen and strong coffee and then, in a swirl of conversation and alcoholic conviviality, carries on to khoa swè over lunch. It’s a wonderful opportunity to catch up with people you haven’t met all year and may not see for another.

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In England the Queen’s speech is a must. It’s a brief five minute greeting, broadcast by all the channels sometime in the afternoon, when everyone is assumed to have gorged themselves silly and collapsed on comfortable sofas in front of the telly. No one remembers what she says and, frankly, it sounds the same each year yet you feel better for hearing it even if you spend your time mimicking her accent or joking about her style and manner. To be honest, that’s affection. The British realise that but try it in India and watch how our beloved politicians miss the point because they lack a sense of humour. What the Brits call wit we consider anti-national.

A British Christmas ends in front of the box and viewership is the highest for the year. The channels compete furiously and you know well in advance what they have to offer. That’s how Downton Abbey became a hit a decade ago. But can you imagine watching TV on Diwali night?

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Christmas in Britain is also a time for stirring the conscience. It was a BBC report on famine in Ethiopia, broadcast just before Christmas, that inspired Bob Geldof and the Live Aid concerts. Nothing makes you feel worse than watching a baby die of hunger as you prepare a feast for yourself. Alas, the art of giving is one we still have to learn. We tend to be a nation of takers.

On that note, Merry Christmas.

The views expressed are personal.