Preparing For The Season of Love

My dear friends, I am more than delighted to write this post as I eagerly await the month that starts tomorrow ~ December ~ a month that brings good cheer and happiness to millions across the world as it is in this month that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Lord & Saviour, on the 25th of December. Christians across the world celebrate the birth of the One whose life and teachings are the foundation of Christianity.

As per the Christian calendar we are currently observing the season of Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming"which starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25th and ends on the day of the Nativity of Christ (25th of December) after which starts the Christmastide which lasts twelve days (this is the origin of the Christmas carol - The Twelve Days of Christmas) and ends on the 6th of January (Epiphany) which is also celebrated as the Feast of the Three Kings (The Magi)

"The Reason For The Season"

Although I have been waiting to write this post since ages, I was waiting for Advent to start. The season of Advent is the symbolic time of preparation of one's self for the coming of the Lord. Along with this, a host of other preparations are made and it is a time of love and happiness, bonding and togetherness. It is also the time when families meet and greet each other and gifts are exchanged. Sadly, in today's world the whole focus of Christmas has shifted from the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ (the Son of God who came down to this earth for the salvation of the whole world) to the famous Santa Claus (originally Saint Nicholas, a kind soul) who as per folklore is said to bring gifts to the homes of children who have been on their best behaviour the whole year through (well, even I believed this when I was a kid!). Undoubtedly, Christmas becomes more delightful for kids and adults alike when we have Santa look-alikes wandering around adding a sparkle to the celebrations. 

However, the real meaning of Christmas is beyond Santa and beyond the festivities, the gifts, the food, the cards, the decorations, the X'mas Tree and the commercialisation of this meaningful feast. In short, the real meaning of Christmas is truly the giving of love everyday!

(The story of the birth of Jesus - from the Candle Bible For Kids)

I have a lot of memories revolving Christmas and what it meant to me when I was a child. It brings back vibrant memories of colours, food, music, movies and people. The events that surround this festival, the countdown to the actual day, the enthusiasm and cheer is something else. If I were to open the chest of my memories, I would not be able to pick just one. There are just too many! When I was in school we used to have the Crib competition to look forward to. A crib is a miniature model of the actual scene of The Nativity - the manger where Jesus was born. It typically consists of a open manger (a trough or an open box in which feed for livestock is placed - as in a stable) and the worldly parents of Jesus - Mary & Joseph and shepherds and their livestock that were present in the area surrounding the manger. The best presentation of this Nativity scene would fetch prizes. I remember that whoever was interested to take part would have to form teams and give their names & I used to always participate with my bunch of friends - a mix of Christian & non-Christians. The participation mattered, not the winning (err, well, the winning mattered too and the disappointment always followed when we didn't win - haha!)

(A typical crib on display outside churches in Mangalore)

The run up to Christmas also had me listening to and singing the carols. Christmas carol (also called a noël) is a carol (song or hymn) whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas. Since I was part of the Church Choir we used to go Carolling (singing the carols from door to door) - those days were so much fun! 

My mother and I would also make trips to the greeting card shops (there was no Archies or Hallmark in those days - just 'Jerosa Company' or 'St Joseph's Art Printers) to buy our quota of Christmas greeting cards with the warmest of wishes and those that had pictures of the scene of The Nativity or western houses with snow on their roofs and everywhere, pictures of all kinds of Christmas paraphernalia - pictures of a Santa with a goodie bag laden with gifts wrapped in bright colours or a scene of a Christmas tree heavily decorated, a fireplace with wood crackling away and a cat cuddled on a small carpet enjoying the warmth. Oh! how I wished I was part of such scenes! But the tropical climate of Mangalore never saw any winters - well, a few chilly evenings here & there and the adults in my family used to say 'Illeshe Thand podla' (it's beginning to get cold) - so with temperatures as high as 28-29 degrees C at night we would wrap ourselves in thick blankets and drift to sleep with some carols playing softly on our dual cassette deck (our most prized possession in those days almost as coveted as the iPad itself). On some sultry evenings after dinnertime I would sit with my cousins on the steps of our house and gaze into the dark night bejewelled with sparkling stars that took the position of the Three Kings (Orion's Belt) and a child's imagination transported me back into history to the time when Jesus was born.

Since my childhood saw me reading a lot of Enid Blyton books, I used to wish that it would snow in Mangalore too and that Santa would visit me via the chimney (which didn't exist although I made several trips to the dusty, cobweb ridden attic to find that secret door). But obviously none of that happened. No snow & no Santa, despite the hundreds of letters I wrote to him & threw over our old Guava tree. Then there was this year when my brother took pity on me & threw in some 'phoren maal' (his prized collection of imported stationary) in an old sock & left it by my bedside. Boy! Was I thrilled!! (I din't tell him I was so skeptical about it and that I knew who the 'Santa' was). 

The first couple of weeks of December also heralded the onset of the making of Kuswar (the traditional collection of Christmas sweets & savouries) in every family. The popular sweetmeats that in addition to the quintessential plum cake and that are part of the Kuswar are kidiyo (kulkuls/deep fried pastry dough curls), gulio (Rice Marbles), neurio (nevri/sweet puffs), kokkisan (roce/rose cookies), thandhlache laadu (rice laddoos), thilache laadu (sesame seed & jaggery laddoos), rulaonche laadu (semolina laddoos), tukdi (sweet or savoury deep fried diamond shaped pastry dough), pathekan (banana chips), chakliyo (chaklis/rice & lentil spirals), sukur unde (deep fried balls of lentils & jaggery), khaara kaddi (spicy rice & lentil sticks) to name a few. Each family picks their own favourites in the above mentioned list.

Kuswar prepared by my mum-in-law for X'mas 2010

As per the tradition every household used to make huge batches of Kuswar that was sufficient for the members of the household after having distributed it amongst the neighbours, friends, relatives, guests and to the poor and needy who were invited to come home for some alms giving. So one can imagine how much Kuswar used to be religiously prepared by the ladies of the house under the able supervision of the matron of the house (usually the grandma). Kuswar that was made well in advance (as early as in November or early December), stored in airtight steel boxes used to last the whole month through and well into the first week of January. My mother however discontinued making many of the items as the years rolled by, so I had to relearn to make many of them after I got married. Today there are many new items added to the traditional Kuswar platter - milk cream, marzipan, coconut toffee, banana halwa, coconut laddoos to name a few. I hope to learn them one by one in time for next Christmas if not this one ;-)

Ready made Kuswar is available in many bakeries in Mangalore today. People consider it far easier to just shell out some money & buy the Kuswar than to actually toil over it. However, there is no guarantee of the freshness or quality of bakery bought stuff as bakers start the baking & making of eatables at least 2 months in advance. Today as the traditional joint families have been de clustered, women from nuclear families find it difficult to cope up with the challenges of the Kuswar making process (trust me, if you plan to make it single handedly like I did with small kids hanging around for good measure, it can take quite some time & a huge amount of your patience). The cheerfulness and camaraderie that we once shared with fellow 'Kuswar makers' (a.k.a siblings, cousins & aunts) is probably a thing of the past. I know a lot of people (especially you my dear readers who have written in to me since the past couple of months, asking for Kuswar recipes) who armed with the Kuswar recipes would cheerfully want to bring back the old times of making Kuswar at home and so in the days to come, I will post a few recipes that I have been personally tried & tested twice in my kitchen. This is my humble attempt to help all of us recreate the magic of Christmas.

Have a blessed & meaningful season folks!!

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