Ramakrishna Christmas

by Joanna D.

Here it is… Christmas. Quite a different experience this year. Wasn’t sure what to expect or even what I wanted to do. Maybe a little dinner here at the house? Perhaps a walk-about in the evening? I mean, who really celebrates Christmas in India? After some deliberation about what to do, Lars and I decided to go out for some evening Dosa – quite good – and afterwards walk to the Ramakrishna Ashram to experience some chanting.

So, after dinner we walk to the Ashram. We get to the hall; everyone is sitting patiently. I turn to Lars and say, “Are we really allowed in here?” All these Indian people look at us like, “really?” Lars assures me it’s all good and motions for me to enter… men on the right, women on the left. I go sit with the women. Glancing around, I try to get a sense for how people are holding themselves. See if there are any special rules. Most are just sitting there, slouched. Such poor posture! So, I’m good. Sitting. Done.

At the front of the room there is a Christmas tree like shrine. Representing images of Jesus and… wait for it… Santa. Yes, Santa Clause, floating in the branches. Twinkling lights. Tinsel and decorations. Offerings of cakes and oils arranged in front of it among several candles brightly burning. So awesome.

The chanting started and the energy was brilliant! Tablas, bells, harmonium and voice. Everyone knew the words. I had no idea what they were saying. They bellowed it out with devotion and love. It was beautiful. Proceedings continued with tithing, blessings, and ceremonial traditions. Then, I heard organ music. I believe one of the men in the front had a keyboard, and the tune of Silent night started echoing off the walls. I couldn’t stop smiling as this man, with his Indian accent, started to sing. Of course, I tear up a bit. Then – Oh Come all Ye Faithfull and Joy to the World and so on… just perfect. At one point in the celebration another man got up and started reading from the bible. I don’t think I have ever seen someone look so bored! Could barely contain the laughter. Lastly, during some more singing, everyone received a piece of sweet bread and some candy. With a bow of gratitude we left and started home.

It was a good feeling in that room and it carried us all the way back to the house. We lit a candle and went to the roof to indulge in our sweets; including a slice of chocolate, Christmas cake we picked up earlier. We laughed, talked about Christmas’ past and enjoyed the last bits of Christmas Eve.

A lot of things go along with the holidays: family, friends, dinners, drinks, games, gifts and hopefully, if we’re lucky, a lot of love and laughter. I feel pretty lucky.

Merry Christmas.