I spent my first Christmas and New Year away from home to get time for a research project. Though I missed my family greatly, I learned what Indian celebrations are all about!
At 21-years-old, I’ve been to 19 countries, almost as many as my age. Traveling has taught me more about myself and others than perhaps anything else.
I’ve been to where shrapnels are shot daily on the Gaza Strip of the Israel-Palestine border. I’ve been threatened by men with AK-47s near the Kenya-Somalia border. I’ve received marriage proposals and avoided countless sexual invitations. And I’ve grown so close to people worlds apart from me, all while knowing that I probably won’t see most of them again.
But at the end of every day and trip, I’m left with 3 things: myself, God, and my family at home. I must love myself and realise that God never wavers in His love for me. And that my mom, dad, and brother support me wherever I am.
My family and I have never spent major holidays apart… until this year. But with me receiving generous funding for my senior thesis research in India, I ended up spending both Christmas and New Year’s away. Boy was it interesting!
In Hyderabad, India I learned that Christmas is not a big deal…
Many Indians don’t prioritize Christmas because they think it’s only a Christian holiday.
Want to feel strong Indian holiday vibes? I was told to be in the country during Diwali (festival of lights) or Holi (festival of colors) or even Pongal (South Indian harvest festival). That’s when the sales, music, and celebrations really happen!
Christmas carols do not play on the radio.
This made me somewhat melancholy because I often spend my Decembers humming to every Christmas song I can. When I asked Hyderabadis which Christmas songs they know, the only sure tune they’d recall was Jingle Bells.
Don’t count on “Christmas entertainment” to actually include holiday material.
I went to a comedy show called Stand Up Santas a couple days before Christmas, and surprise! None of the jokes had anything to do with Christmas. However, I did become the subject of several jokes, perhaps because I was the only foreigner in the 12-person crowd.
If you want to get into the Christmas spirit, start celebrating on Christmas Eve.
I don’t know if I’ve ever missed a Christmas Eve church service, and I didn’t want this year to be that year. So I ended up going to a 10 PM-1 AM church service in Hitech City, Hyderabad. There we sang Christmas carols and heard a Christian message, but it bothered me that most of the event involved a soap opera-style play and a jam session!
Many Hyderabadis get Christmas Day off work.
That means that the malls, restaurants, and movie theatres are hopping. I saw a rom-com Bollywood movie, went bowling, had street food, and took a boat ride to see a statue of Buddha. Not exactly Christmas activities!
If you crave something Christmasy, then go out for Christmas brunch.
That’s what I did after having a dosa breakfast at Chutney’s, a touristy Hyderabadi restaurant. I ate my brunch at a fancy hotel, where a saxophonist and pianist serenaded my friend Bhupendra and I with Christmas melodies.
While Hyderabadis don’t fuss over Christmas, they usually make New Year’s plans….
Cakes are essential New Year treats.
Not that I bought one. If muffins were sold, you could have counted me in!
New Year’s Eve parties are happening left and right.
I almost attended a Hyderabadi New Year’s party because there were so many! Hotels and restaurants were offering buffets with unlimited drinks, dancing, and games. But I instead chose to hang out with my friend Avi, who had other activities and treats in mind.
As the clock ticks midnight on New Year’s, the road becomes a chaotic orchestra.
People honk their horns, play music, shout, and wave at strangers. The sky glows with fireworks every couple seconds. Venders remain open, capitalising on the partier mindset. As for me, I brought in the New Year on the backseat of Avi’s motorcycle.
People greet each other the first few days after New Year’s.
“Happy New Year,” they say to friends and strangers while shaking hands. It’s like Americans uttering “Merry Christmas” to each other to spread the holiday spirit.
While this year’s Christmas season was drastically different from my past holiday celebrations, it certainly was unforgettable. Now as I spend my next couple weeks traveling to villages to research rural waste management, I’m still in the holiday spirit of making a difference. And I’m recognizing that wherever I am, there’s beauty not just in my heritage but also in the diverse traditions of other cultures.
Here’s my bonus photos…
First are my miscellaneous fun shots:
And here are some takes from my solid waste management research: