A very Mumbai Christmas: Drunk Santa, no snowfall, and a fake tree

By Mavis D’Silva

Christmas as a Mumbaikar is a unique experience. We compensate for the absence of snow with tons of cotton spread unevenly on our (mostly plastic) trees. And the Christmas Parade is basically Ganpati Visarjan’s poor, underperforming cousin.

At last, it’s December. The end of the year. The season to be jolly. A time to bond over homemade delicacies with your family and friends – to munch on gingerbread and dance on table tops drunk on wine, feeling the chill of winter as Mariah Carey sings “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. It sounds dreamy and perfect until you realise that perfection is an illusion set by Hollywood that mere Mumbai mortals like us aren’t meant to achieve.

You see, Christmas as a Mumbaikar is a unique experience, considering the logistics of the city always interfere with any and every celebration. For starters, we compensate for the absence of snow with tons of cotton (selflessly contributing to the growth of the Indian economy) spread unevenly on our (mostly plastic) Christmas trees. As you place the thermocol star on top of your tree, you WhatsApp your friend, “This Christmas, no feels.” And then a sense of déjà vu creeps in. This is the same text you’ve been sending your BFF for as long as you can remember.

And when you think your Christmas can’t get any gloomier, the WhatsApp group named “Christmas Party!!!!!!!!!” that holds all the excitement within those exclamations, begins to buzz and you curse yourself for accepting the invite. The expectations of a cheerful night-out with unlimited alcohol where the DJ plays all your guilty pleasure music, dies somewhere between a string of messages exchanged until the D-Day. The evolution of “Guys?? Let’s party!!!!” to “OMG, YES! WHERE?” to “Hey, my house is available!” and finally to “Sorry guys, mom’s got some family plans, gonna have to sit this one out” ends up reminding you of why that Goa plan from 2012 never got executed.

Unlike the holiday films where a long-lost friend randomly finds you in the middle of the after-mass chaos and invites you to the party that will change your life, in reality the only people you will find yourself getting drunk with is your big fat extended family.

To liven up the spirits that your plans could never, your Church decides to organise a Christmas Parade. You imagine a marching band and a cuddly Santa leading the procession in his professionally designed sleigh. But what you get are loudspeakers, half the neighbourhood drunks gyrating to “Laila Main Laila”, a skinny often inebriated Santa, and Uncle Ron shoving his sweaty Christmas hat right into your face. The Christmas Parade is basically Ganpati Visarjan’s poor, underperforming cousin.

If you think that is enough to take the cheer out of Christmas, wait for Christmas Eve.  Your hair refuses to set the way you want it and you’re running late for mass. Your dress or your tux that you fit into last week, suddenly becomes too tight – either the zip refuses to shut or the buttons turn stubborn and you curse yourself for having all that extra marzipan when mum was making sweets for the season.

Amid all these crises, trust your mother to choose this particular moment to stand outside your room and scream, “No one in this household ever helps me”. By the time you make a run to the Church, you are profusely drowning in your tux, humidity, and life choices. And after being stuck in traffic for the better part of the evening, you somehow make it for mass.

Then comes the trickiest part of the night. Breaking it to your parents that you’ll sit with your friends for the mass this year. Let’s face it, you care little about the sermon or the carol singing. You are here to show off your #OOTD and then sit in a dark corner so that no one notices your gang sneaking out just 20 minutes into the mass. Naturally, pulling off that little heist without grandma noticing is your definition of the Christmas miracle. You manage to then sneak in 10 minutes before the priest says, “Mass has ended.” Once the most awaited words of the evening have been uttered, everyone rushes to the exit and experiences the real “Joy to the World” that they were singing about a few minutes ago.

But the happiness is short-lived. You are stopped by every parish-goer to wish you “Merry Christmas”, you are forced to make small talk, and ask them about their plans for the week. Unlike the holiday films where a long-lost friend randomly finds you in the middle of the after-mass chaos and invites you to the party that will change your life, in reality the only people you will find yourself getting drunk with is your big fat extended family. And the only person keen to kiss you, mistletoe or no mistletoe, is your clingy Aunt Carmen.  

So you drag yourself back home, change into your pyjamas, and down your misery into plates of sorpotel and glasses of wine. The lights are promptly switched off around 2 am and you are left with no other option than to scroll through Instagram stories and try to live vicariously through people “having a blast”. By the time you wake up on Christmas the next day, it’s already noon.

Suddenly, half the day has passed and by evening, neighbours have found their way to your house. You’re convinced that it’s impossible for the smile plastered on your face to look any less than a frown as they ask you, “So beta, what’s the plan for 31st? Big party haan?” Your jaw hurts from all the fake grinning and that’s when you promise Santa you’ll be an angel next year only if he can make all the aunts and uncles disappear.

After the Great Christmas Dinner, the evening carries on with dad jokes, more alcohol, multiple “When are you getting married?” interrogations. But the final nail is that email from your boss reminding you about the presentation you need to prepare for the next day. As your guests finally say goodbye, leaving behind an entire house to clean up, you can’t help but wonder how – between excitedly setting up the Christmas tree as a kid and watching reruns of Home Alone – the season of miracles lost its magic. And have I turned into the Grinch who stole Christmas?

The article has been originally published at Arre.

ChristmasCulture and SocietyHeritage