Posts Tagged

Christianity

A Backwater Christmas

You’ve probably just woken up from your post-Christmas meal nap and are either waiting for the Doctor Who or Eastenders special to start. It has been an incredibly alcoholic/calorific day and you can’t remember a time when you weren’t at a dinner table or splayed out on a sofa. The jumper you are wearing has a snowflake or a reindeer on it and you don’t care a little bit. Your dad is probably still asleep, snoring and has forgotten to take his party hat off. This is what Christmas usually looks like. However, writing this in Allapay on the backwaters of the River Periyar in Kerala, I can’t say that we have had the most conventional Christmas.

They don’t really celebrate it here even though a significant number of people are Christian – however, the hotels containing tourists really do make an effort. I managed to pack a couple of Christmas jumpers in the vain hope that I could wear them without melting underneath. My thin “Chilling” jumper was just about bearable for breakfast before it got absolutely ridiculously hot. Considering the weather has always been freezing at home in the last few years, this was a much welcome change. In Greenwoods, there was a beautful treehouse that we climbed to peer over the town of Thekkady before we left for the final place, Allapay. Then I saw a turkey. A real live, gobble-gobble turkey and I raced down to see it. It was particularly grumpy, but it was huge and the irony was too strong for me to not take a picture with it.

Skipping ahead the three hour long car journey, Allapay was back towards Cochin where we started, and so it was humid beyond belief. However, this was mitigated by the fact that it was bang in the middle of the backwaters, which are like canals and very famous in the area, which cooled the land around them. You could see palm trees, paddy fields and so many house boats – it was almost like a Venice-themed set for Lost. To top it all off, the only way to get to our hotel was to get there by boat. Yes, a boat bus.

We jumped onto the barge and made our way across the lake to the Lake Palace resort. When my Mum said that she was going to organise a five star trip for my 21st I thought she was joking, but this place was literally like paradise in the middle of nowhere. Set up a serious of cottages straddling the river, the entire hotel was completely integrated into its surrounding environment. Our “room” is surrounded by a man-made lake, the centre of which stands a swimming pool. You have to get around here by golf cart and they offer free pottery classes. And when someone offers you claywork on Christmas, you would be an idiot to say no. So I’ve set up a class for tomorrow – go figure.

The highlight of the day though was the boat ride over the backwaters here. They are separate from the rest of the ocean and act like roads for the fishing and agricultural markets. One of the key features are the thatched house boats that were traditionally set by fisherman over week long campaigns where their family could stay with them. Now they are a cool tourist attraction and inevitably everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. To be honest, all of the other things aside, it was nice just having the tranquillity and the sunset behind us as I thought about how different it would have been in England. There wasn’t a television or Shrek re-run in sight.

With only a few more days left in India, it has dawned on me that this is the last time I am going to be here for a while. Having been here three times in two years and seeing over half the country, it is time to take a break. Saying that, it is going to be sad to say goodbye to this, and especially enjoying these last few moments with my family. I will be forever grateful to my Mum and brother for single-handedly putting this whole thing together. I am not a birthday person at all, but this is the best way to celebrate it.

I may not have learned anymore about Christianity this year (it has been difficult to do so with no wifi and few English-speaking churches out here) but I have learnt the importance of having my family around me. It is easy to lose a sense of that at university when you have been away so long.

I may have met turkeys, made pottery, climbed tree houses, swum in a pool inside a lake, ridden on a few boats, worn a ridiculous jumper in the crazy heat and eaten Indian food instead of Christmas dinner. Like I said, it’s been an unconventional festive season. If this is the last thing I get to say about South India, then all I can say is that it really is “God’s Own Country” as they advertise it everywhere.

I think they just have better tea.

12434488_10208150309817442_429118466_n
What a sunset

Five Minutes on your Birthday

We were up until about 1 o’clock this morning. However, we were not excited in the run up to ripping wrapping paper off gifts or preparing ourselves for a day of constant consumption, we were contemplating. My dad, brother and I, in the absence of being well enough to go to Church this year found ourselves sitting and watching Midnight Mass on the television; one of the few times we have not actually made it in person in my life.

My father made it a tradition well before I was born. That on the eve of Jesus’ birth, we would go to Church and be a part of a tradition that has spanned for over a thousand years. We are not Christians, but it would not be Christmas without hymns, carols, prayer and a sense of peace. Although that is lost on many this year and in the last few.

The holiday has changed – it has become many different things to many people now. I actually think it is great that people spend this time with their families and even if we need to spend lots of money, buy into a consumerist culture and do all of these things as pretence, then at least it is a start. Festivals are supposed to be about remembrance and if that enables you to stop and think, then you can only take the positives from that.

But don’t lose the meaning. It is like going to someone’s birthday party, eating all of their food, enjoying their hospitality and then forgetting to say “Happy Birthday!” to the host. The reason why you all turned up in the first place. Enjoy the festivities, and make the most of your time with your loved ones but realise the sacrifice that one man made, whether you believe in the story or not.

It is not about being pedantic, neither it is about being critical nor mocking the beliefs of others. There are days where we can put our arguments to the side and understand how important sacrifice is and how one individual personified this. I usually use Christmas to read the Bible, or to learn another story about a man that is so revered around the world. It is a shame that when we subscribe to so many fantastic characters, we forget Jesus Christ because Christianity becomes a barrier.

A Prophet in Islam, an Avatar in Hinduism and the Saviour in Christianity; there are very few individuals that many of the most prevalent religions have reverence for. Take some time to understand why he was so special, even if it just for a minute in between the Eastenders special and that movie you have been looking forward to seeing. Because when you tuck in to your dinner, there was someone who broke bread and wine for your salvation, whether you followed him or not, because he believed that you would be the answer.

He believed in man. In you. I don’t think 5 minutes out of your year on his birthday is too much to ask.