I can’t seem to agree with those of you who believe that Christmas is pretty much the same almost everywhere… Agreed, it’s the same cosy feeling—the cakes, the sweets, good times and cheer. But Christmas memories are unique for each household. I can vouch for this with the experience of my fairly long stay of 18 years in the Middle Eastern State of Kuwait. In spite of being a 99% Muslim-populated country, Christmas still shows her face with bright lights, Christmas trees, special mass services in churches and, well, you know, the whole December Effect.
The society building where I stayed housed a bunch of enthusiastic school kids. I was the oldest and had the added advantage of being the only high schooler in the (b)rat pack. None of us were older than 16 years and it was pretty easy for us to let our presence be felt frequently. As a part of all the hullabaloo of growing up together, we used to stage a Christmas show in the building every year.
The ‘show’ normally consisted of carols, skits, or dances. Once, we even staged our version of Dickens’s “Christmas Carol”. The Christmas show always had a large crowd for audience—our adorable parents, and some brats who openly sniggered at us but secretly wanted to be a part of our band of performers.
Christmas 1997. The plans were elaborate. No more Santa masks. This time, it would be REAL make-up! What’s more –we planned to put up an action song for the tiny tots. By about three-quarters of our practice sessions, the choreographer threatened to cancel the item simply because she ran out new dance steps to teach! The poor girl pulled out most of her hair and was about to walk out of the whole project, so we decided to perform a tableau instead. The kids were not expected to move much—absolutely still would have been best, but that is a little hard to achieve considering the age of the performers. The tableau depicted the nativity scene with Joseph, Mary and the rest of the gang. We also put together a small but consistent choir to dole out carols.
The choir kept practicing hard. Each singer had his/her own unique pitch and each one practiced in his/her own wrong keys. Interestingly, we all managed to begin and end the songs at the same time. And boy, was that an achievement! We sang in the corridors of the building, in the loudest possible volume, of course. We got yelled at by our irritated neighbours, missed the basketball matches and our favourite TV shows… Oh! Those little sacrifices!!
With only two more days left for the D-day, we were getting panicky. The tension, the impatience, the words that came out at the most inappropriate moments! The costumes and make-up were left to the bigger kids. One of our mothers was very vocal about her displeasure in losing her red salwar. We needed Santa trousers and didn’t know where else to look! Later on, when the salwar was returned to the owner, I heard that she found cotton paddings on the helms—our idea of Santa’s fur lining!
We had a couple of “reindeers” complete with cardboard antlers, which sagged and drooped midway. There were “angels” and “shepherds”. There were kings and Joseph and Mary… Imagine the amount of work!
On the appointed day, we went to each door and invited our guests personally. We got dressed and helped each other out as well. The “kings” wanted to wear their crowns right away and “Mary” complained she was feeling hot inside the robe. In short, they were all just very excited.
Our show began with the rise of the curtains, amidst loud applause, a good half an hour late. The ‘stage’ was a corridor between the four apartments on the first floor. The stairs served as the tiered-seating arrangement for the audience and the ‘curtain’ was an old ragged bedsheet. Some of our parents couldn’t make it on time, so the show was conveniently rescheduled. Heard of this anywhere else?
The choir was searching for a singer who went missing at the 11th hour. Thankfully, the tableau saved the day! We put the tiny tots on the stage first, while the search party continued their work. One by one, I adjusted the costumes and placed each performer on the stage. One “angel” seemed a little uneasy and fidgety. Probably stage fright, I thought. Interestingly, we didn’t even have a proper stage. Half way into the narration, my eyes met my sister’s. Her huge and visibly alarmed eyes spelt danger. Her gaze guided me to the spot of trouble. The angel had wetted herself. The child wanted to use the bathroom very badly, and none of us had the patience to help her out of her costumes. And the result was there for all to see! Another “angel” quickly covered up the scene with her chart paper wings. “Mary” escorted the tiny girl was escorted off the stage and the tableau continued as though nothing was amiss. Our parents pretended normalcy as well. After all, it was Christmas! Sweets and cakes made everyone forget the blooper and many of us hurried back into our homes. We had the midnight service to go to…
No one thought of capturing those moments in a photograph or with a camcorder. But I am sure no one forgot those days either. (Not that “angel”, at least!) Iraqi threats and US army manoeuvres across Kuwait were forgotten for the moment. Everyone switched off CNN and enjoyed life for the moment. Tomorrow will be another day, they said. These memories will forever remain fresh in my mind. The Christmases in Kuwait will always be special to me…