I was talking to  Ajay about attending midnight mass tomorrow. He asked me why I was attending. Here’s why.

I grew up in a predominantly Christian area.

My neighbors were a family of three very creative daughters. All of December was spent creating paper flowers, eggshell-and-confetti buds, tinsel-and-thermacol cutouts. All just in time for the tree and the Santa towards the end of the month.

My housing colony was one of many plots on either side of a straight road running the length. In early December, a huge star-shaped lantern would be hung up on ropes strung between the buildings on opposite sides of the road. It read ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ and stayed there till the first week of January was over.

When I was really small, the parents got together and organized a Santa Claus (it must have been one of the chubbier uncles, only I don’t know which one, they all looked big then). After he had ho-ho-ed his way and the games had been played, each of us got to go up to him and get our own presents. I thought it was incredibly nice of this big, fat, red stranger to give me just the toy I wanted. I don’t remember what I got but I remember thinking he was really nice. Then we ate cupcakes and wafers and orange juice. And went home to the holidays.

On Christmas Eve I was allowed to stay up late. While dad slept in the living room, mum and I would turn the lights off and stand at the window at 11.00 p.m. Just to watch our friends and neighbors and people we knew walk by in their year’s best to church for midnight mass.

After school, I went to a more cosmopolitan crowd in college, none of them Catholic. An old friend from school got back in touch and once again I had a connection to that world again.

In the weeks preceding Christmas, I was the audience to all the dating dramas of her friends and her, all out to bag a perfect date for the December balls. I’d get to her place on the 24th in the late evening. Even though I’d have had dinner at home already, her mum would put down a plate of some chicken and paos. And of course my favorite homemade wine. The family would get dressed and we’d walk down the village to the school ground. That’s where midnight mass was held.

It was quite cold on those evenings and I wondered how my friends managed to stand smiling in their skimpy cocktail dresses while I was shivering in my jacket-over-jeans. Then I’d be mesmerized by the mass that would just begin in Marathi. I remember listening to it, with an odd feeling. Marathi was my second language and I was good at it, curiously enough because my mum’s best friend/tuition teacher/alternate mother was a Maharashtrian. And I was listening to her native tongue extolling prayers I knew well from my school days.

After mass, we’d hang around a bit to gab with our school pack. Then we’d get home around 2 a.m. She’d carefully take off her dress to be able to wear it to the ball the next day. We’d sip another glass of wine, eat some cake and a little bit of the marzipan she had rolled earlier that day. And then we’d dance. She taught me to jive.

I don’t live in that place anymore. I’m not really friends with her anymore. I don’t have any of that world anymore.

Yesterday, after my weekly temple visit, I stopped by a coffee shop. And when I heard Boney M go,

Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day
And man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day
Hark now here, the angels sing
A king was born today

…I knew I could always have Christmas every year.

I tried this last year, planned it with a friend. We had a quick dinner and waited for it to be a quarter to twelve so we could walk down. To my surprise, the church was closed. I hadn’t realized that midnight mass doesn’t happen at midnight anymore. So I missed it.

But this time I won’t. I’ll be in Bandra by 10p.m. There are enough of churches there and I will be able to get to any one of them. It’s not my school church but it’s a close enough approximation. I’ll be going with people who’ve never attended mass before so for a change I’ll be the one who knows the most about the ceremony instead of the one that knows the least.

It doesn’t matter and yet, it does. The Christmases have evolved over the years with some wonderful people making it happen for me. Tomorrow I’ll take Christmas to some of the special people in my life.

And that’s why I’m going to midnight mass tomorrow.


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