Santi, the female Santa

Me as Santi, the female Santa, during a staff association 2008 Christmas get together in UNICEF. Photos: COURTESY OF RUPA JOSHI

It is that time of the year again. Malls in Kathmandu have decorated themselves with tinsel, baubles, artificial trees, LED lights and Christmas themed gizmos on shelves, painting the town red (and green).

The other day I was almost tempted to buy a little snow globe in one of the stores before I balked at the price. Nonetheless, I did turn a couple of them upside down to watch the snow fall.  Snowfall, jingling bells, presents. Christmas is here!

This fascination with Christmas goes back to childhood, studying in a Catholic missionary school. The nuns taught us carols, and shared with the ‘good girls’ cards that had been sent to them from across the world. It was an era when Christmas greetings were still in hardcopy — letters, cards and postcards.

Vintage Christmas card of Santa Claus. Source: FINEARTAMERICA.COM

The cards were precious, and we cherished the ones with glitter on them, or with pop-ups and layers. One year, I even made a scrapbook out of these cards as part of my ‘hobbies’ exhibit.

The Christmas tree with presents piled up underneath, the plump laughing guy with rosy cheeks in a red suit, twinkling eyes and snowy white beard riding his reindeer-driven sleigh laden with presents. And of course, white snowy scenes with boughs of holly and red berries.

So enamoured was I to have a piece of Christmas myself, I scoured the nooks and crannies of our compound, in the undergrowth, searching for any plant that had chevron spikes that looked like holly.

Drawing a Christmas tree also became an interesting pastime during the last days of school in December. A three tiered pointy pagoda-like tree with zigzag lines for tinsel, circles here and there for baubles, and not to forget a big star on top and a trapezoid pot at the bottom.

I loved our singing classes, and as December got closer we performed the feisty “Jingle Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas” or the solemn “Silent Night” with all our might.

I hankered for Christmas so much my parents took pity on me and decided to let me have a Christmas experience. I must have been eight, and had hung a sock on my bed on Christmas Eve, hoping the cherubic guy from the North Pole would come sleighing down to Kathmandu.

A more buxom Santi from the year earlier.

Next morning I found a yellow cloth doll with a pixie head and a plastic face peeping from the top of the sock. I was thrilled that Father Christmas had come all the way to my room. I had a doll named Bella that my father had given as a gift, so I named its companion, the yellow doll, Yella.

I played with Bella and Yella, and the next Christmas I hung up the sock again. And the next morning there was a Johnson & Johnson pink and blue striped tiffin-like tin box with soap, cream, and talcum powder set inside it. I still get the soft soapy aroma of that box in my nose today.

I was probably 10 when the Christmas bubble burst. I had put up my sock again but my mother probably did not have time to shop for a present. What I found inside the sock on Christmas morning was the glass bottle of ointment (with a chipped glass cap) that used to be in the showcase in my parent’s room. Dreams were shattered along with the broken glass cap. Christmas fizzled out after that.

It sparked again years later when I was in the US for my masters, and my three children had come over for a visit during the holidays. At their request we put up a Christmas tree, tinsels, twinkling lights, presents, enjoying the whole process along with them, and probably finally living up to my childhood dreams too.

But the feather in my Christmas cap came when I was with UNICEF Nepal and arranging a Christmas party for colleagues and their children. My dream of Santa Claus visiting me was exchanged for dressing up twice, not as Santa, but the female version Santi – with white curly locks, carrying a jute sack full of gifts and draped in a red sari with white edging of surgical cotton that I had hurriedly stitched the night before.

Merry Christmas. हो! हो! हो!

Read also: Ghosts of Christmas past, Lisa Choegyal

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