Seasons greetings – a world apart#LOVE120 Heather Gupta • October 27, 2016
So, this week is Diwali which I always think of as my “Christmas equivalent”. Both big, fat, celebratory, booze filled events, replete with sparkly lights. OK the religious part differentiates them somewhat, but hey, I’m superficial like that.
So what really are the differences, and similarities between Indian Diwali and British Christmas?
Diwali arrives kind of suddenly, with a frenzy of house cleaning, the frantic purchasing of new outfits, and the realisation that you’ve once again forgotten to think about a Diwali campaign for your client. Christmas, on the other hand, is a different story – build up starts in September, a full three months before Christmas Day itself. Christmas countdown apps prevail, and children open their “advent calendars” one window at a time throughout December until the big day.
Sound and light
Diwali is, of course, The Festival of Lights, and Indians generally love their sparkly stuff. Britain is not a nation which generally reveres “bling” but Christmas changes all of that. Both Diwali and Christmas are all about the twinkly lights – the flashier, the better. Christmas adds tinsel and baubles to the mix, along with fake snow, but Diwali has the edge when it comes to noise. The air is replete with the bursting of crackers for days before and after Diwali itself, whereas cheesy songs on repeat are the only reason for earplugs at Christmas.
Diwali crackers are loud, obnoxious, and threaten life and limb as they’re thrown willy nilly all over the streets. The Christmas cracker is a slightly tamer affair – a Christmas lunch novelty which when pulled apart with a tame, British “bang”, discharges a cheesy joke, a “novelty gift” and a paper hat. The hat is worn throughout the entire Christmas lunch. (yes, Brits can laugh at themselves .. but only on one day of the year).
Both Christmas and Diwali are shopping orgies. Diwali shopping is all about having new stuff – clothes, appliances, furniture, cars and the ubiquitious gold jewellery Christmas shopping is ostensibly for others, as the giving of gifts is a fundamental part of Christmas Day, especially for children, who expect Santa to deliver all of their desires (no pressure for parents there then). Christmas sales begin on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, when the joy of giving makes way for greedy shopping orgies.
Diwali is all about giving, receiving and consuming one’s body weight in sweets, and playing cards with friends over drinks. Christmas is all about parties and “Christmas drinks” during the buildup (every office and office team has its own Christmas party) and sheer gluttony on Christmas Day. Both result in weight gain and the need for subsequent abstinence, although Christmas poses far more of a threat to liver and paunch given that it lasts practically the entire winter.
The Diwali menu is basically mithai, mithai and more mithai, with a few dried fruits thrown in when you feel like being “healthy”. Oh, and it’s generally a vegetarian festival. “Fussy” vegetarians, however, threaten the very fundament of the traditional Christmas dinner, with its juicy turkey, pigs in blankets (bacon wrapped pork sausages) and beef lard added to moisten the Christmas pudding.
No-one really invites people for “Diwali drinks” (though you’re expected to drink at every event). Christmas however is an excuse to drink excessively. Christmas drinks with every friend and co-worker. Brandy in the Christmas cake, and poured liberally over the Christmas pud. Mulled wine and Egg nog . Champagne for breakfast on Christmas morning. And more booze to combat the hangover on Boxing Day.
Warm fuzzy feelings
Diwali is all about visiting family, friends playing card games, and renewing sibling ties on Bhai Dooj. Super sweet yaar, especially when accompanied by burfi, kulfi, rasgullas and jalebi. Christmas is also allegedly “the season of goodwill”, a time when feuding neighbours make truces over a hot toddy, and office politics are cast asunder by a little flirtation under the mistletoe. This all goes for a toss on Christmas Day however, when family members generally end up fighting bitterly.
Diwali is always humid, muggy and usually horribly smoggy thanks to the excessive number of rockets launched into the sky. The scent of sulphur hangs over the cities for days. Unless you’re Australian, a “proper” Christmas has to be cold. Ideally snowing, for that really festive feel.
There’s no kissing during Diwali. At least, not in public. Christmas mistletoe hangs above every doorway in Britain – an excuse to grab random strangers and snog* the face off them.