Meet the elves who work all through Christmas, so you can have a blast
Meet the cake makers, bakers, ornament sellers and party planners.mumbai Updated: Dec 22, 2017 21:00 IST
This Christmas you’ll probably sip mulled wine in front of a tree, rip the wrapping off your gifts and sit down to a Christmas meal that will generate leftovers until Wednesday. For a lot of Mumbai residents, however, it’s a different kind of Christmas – a hectic one when there’s barely time to breathe.
There are chefs cooking up traditional feasts, committees organising Mumbai’s oldest Christmas ball, local stores selling festive decorations and in-demand choirs. Take a peek into their busy lives, and see how they get the Christmas lights to shine brighter for everyone else.
The sweet makers
Mavourneen Peters, 43, owner of Mavs Cakes and Bakes, has been working on Christmas day for the past three years. The popular Bandra bakery has a special Christmas menu this year too – mulled wine jelly shots, fruit pies, ham, baked pears, sticky toffee and eggnog.
“We don’t only do traditional recipes, we try to re-invent them,” Peters says. Her roasts, however, come from a traditional Irish recipe. “My mother is Irish, so my inspiration comes from her style of cooking.”
Mav’s team of four starts working on Christmas orders from November end and works 13 hours a day to ensure that approximately 30 orders on a single day are met. “We go crazy,” she says. “People also have pre-Christmas parties so the orders never stop. But we love every bit of it.”
On Christmas Eve they come in at 6am, and wrapping up orders quickly to be in time for midnight mass. “We’re back in on 25th early in the morning to finish the rest and try to wrap up by 2pm latest,” she says.
But the mood at the bakery is merry throughout. It is, after all, the season to be jolly. “We have carols playing to keep up the spirit.”
The Parsi family serving traditional feasts
Katy’s Kitchen was started 43 years ago by the late Parsi chef Katy Dalal. Her son Kurush and his wife, Rhea now manage the enterprise. Around Christmas time they offer lunch and dinner specials of pork, chicken stuffed with boiled egg and apple, Persian lamb with parsley buttered rice and baked fish Florentine.
Their Mazagaon kitchen feeds 50 to 200 people for Christmas day itself and approximately 50 people a day eat their food in the week running up to Christmas. “We started Christmas specials 15 years ago when we realised there are people who are alone at home yearning for something traditional,” Kurush says. “So we even deliver single portions.”
They start as early as 6.30am and finish by 10pm atleast three weeks in advance. My staff has worked with me for almost 30 years; we all bicker together, shout together and absolutely love working on this holiday,” he says. “These are the days to make money. But it’s never just work. There are always old Hindi songs playing in the kitchen with endless cups of sugary tea – our fuel for the season.”
The ones who have a ball
Sion’s Everard Nagar has been hosting Christmas dances annually since 1974, making them one of the city’s oldest. Couples and families come from across the city (even from abroad when NRIs fly back home for the festival) and dance all night to live bands who’ve been belting tunes since the 70s.
Raymond Nogueira, 68, president of the Everard Welfare Association says preparations begin as early as September. They begin talking to the bands, checking out live performances before finalising on one band. This year, Rockin Marmalade, will make their debut.
The nine-member organising committee gets sponsors, books caterers and tents, working until late at night in the days leading up to Christmas Day. But they say they enjoy putting together the formal dance, year after year to see people have a grand old time.
On December 25, it’s Christmas lunch with family, and back to work, getting the place ready by 7pm. “Then it’s just waiting for the crowd to come and enjoy the night,” Nogueira says.
Nogueira has been on the committee since 2003 but his first Christmas ball was in 1976 when he was 21. “It’s more than a ball. We have always had proposals being made and I won’t be surprised if someone comes quietly to us to organise one this year too,” he says.
The bonus: couples who attended the dance in the ’70s and ’80s return with kids and grandkids, keeping the tradition alive.
The festive decorator
In Orlem, Malad, the lights at Fantasy Collection and Book Centre shine bright even on Christmas day.
Jayesh Patel, 22, has been working at the store for four years and says the day is like any other. But December is the busiest month. A huge stall is set up outside the store for Christmas decorations. “We sell Christmas trees, wreaths, bright and colourful tree ornaments, and even tiny snowmen,” Patel says.
Patel enjoys working through the season – customers are always brimming with the festive spirit. “People in this area start decorating their houses from December 1 itself – so we start getting requests for lights, and trees,” he says.
The store remains opens from 9am until 10.30pm on Christmas Day too. “Orlem is cute and completely different from Kutch, in Gujarat, where I am from,” he says. The mood is infectious.
The team with the high notes
At Colaba’s Church of St. John the Evangelist, popularly called Afghan Church, the Wild Voices Choir has been singing at midnight mass for 13 Christmases.
Rehearsals begin as early as in August. George John, 42, a marketing director at a film company, conducts the 40- member choir. “We are a bunch of close friends from across the city – Parel, Malad and even Belapur – and meet on weekends to practice,” he says. The sessions, in John’s house in Ghatkopar, are serious. New songs are learned, old ones refreshed and every note is polished so as to create a perfect harmony for Christmas mass.
“The acoustics at Afghan Church are brilliant,’ says John. “When we sing near the altar, the voices travel to the end of the church and there’s even a bit of an echo which makes for a beautiful experience.”
Their kids join in too. “Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, and so for us, carols are a way of celebrating it so people can partake in the joy of music,” he adds.
They typically start with the classic O Come All Ye Faithful and end with Silent Night, lighting candles as the Church’s lights are put out. “We all wait for August to start the process all over again, after all, Christmas is all about fun and we love carols.”
The full dinner service
From her tiny kitchen in Cuffe Parade, Christina Fernandez, 38, has been catering Christmas meals with all the frills for 10 years. She whips up a turkey stuffed with cranberry sauce and gravy, ham with two kinds of glazing, duck with plum and apple and a chicken roast. The recipes come from her Anglo-Indian mother but she also makes a Goan-style pork vindaloo since her husband is Goan.
“My mum, Coral Berlie, used to do a bit of catering but never on a large scale,” Fernandez says. “We used to host parties and friends loved my food, so we decided to do it properly from home.”
It’s a small family affair; her husband helps with logistics, her mother with baking and her brother pitches in with social media. But they deliver across the city so orders come from practically everywhere and work never stops. For this year’s Christmas day, they have orders of 10 full chicken roasts, four turkey roasts and two hams. Fernandez also tells us how during this season, for three days, she and her mum ended up making 40 kilos of cake and have also had to mould 10 kilos of marzipan - since everything is handmade.
“I don’t remember the last time I went to a Christmas party,” Fernandes says. “Everyone wants their meals on 24 and 25 December.” she says. But they love doing what they do.
“We gather at my place on Christmas after mass, and eat lunch together. It’s the only way I want to celebrate Christmas.”