We were quite the sight. It was like Bollywood meets Santa — a loud group of Indian immigrants and their children smashed together in a single living room around a Christmas tree. Every year as a child we would drive hours from our home in Canada to the States to spend Christmas visiting with my mother’s 5 siblings, their families and my grandmother. Most often we would gather under one roof at my uncle’s house near Chicago where my grandmother also lived, brought together by our desire to see her and her desire to have us all together as a family. However, she had some extra requirements as our family adopted celebrating this holiday that was new to her.
We would wake up Christmas morning groggy eyed and exhausted, jarred awake by our mothers yelling loudly at us in Gujarati to wake up (“Don’t you know what time it is? Hurry up and get ready! Why did you stay up all night then!?”) As was also a tradition, myself and my cousins would have stayed up late gossiping and laughing into the wee hours of the night, unable to sleep with all the men shaking the house with their monstrous snoring. We would sleep lined up along the floor like sardines on made up cots using sleeping bags, foam mattress tops, mismatched sheets and blankets. But rolling out of bed and dragging our sleepy selves to the Christmas tree in our pyjamas was not an option back then.
My grandmother’s requirements were multifold. First we would all eat breakfast one by one as we waited for an available shower…all 25 of us (more or less depending on the year it seemed). And there was always the 2 or 3 in the family getting screamed at for taking too long in the shower, delaying gift opening. By the time everyone was showered it was suddenly midday with all the children exasperated and itching for their freebies.
Jeans and a sweater were never on the dress list — our family required us all to “dressed nicely” - which meant traditional Indian clothes. The younger girls were all in salwars, the mothers and my grandmother in sarees, the fathers and boys in kurtas or “ nice pant-shirt”. We would cram together in the living room, spilling into the hallways and kitchen in our full Indian garb sitting around the Christmas tree. Jewelry and makeup were also part of the package. All in all it made for some amazing photo-ops.