View from my Balcao: A special Christmas in Goa

My dad blogs from Goa…

Goa has always celebrated its Christmas with much gusto, ressurecting the traditional nostalgia with much revelry – read wine, song and a banquet fit for a king, in every home across this tiny, beach-state. Although the population of Goa does not boast of a high percentage of Catholics, Christmas has always been big hereabouts.

You will get to listen to Christmas carols aplenty as you pass by any Catholic home (being painted, decorated and spruced up), as Christmas is in the air, come December 1st !! There are the eternal favourites like “White Christmas” (by American-born Russian Irving Berlin) first performed by Bing Crossby way back in 1941, or Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy) made famous by the Von Trapp singers of Salzburg (Sound of Music, remember) down to the most popular “Silent Night” composed in German by a schoolmaster in Austria in 1818 and declared as an intangible heritage by UNESCO.

Midnight Mass is a well-attended service with devotees spilling out of the many whitewashed Churches of Goa, into the open spaces; Fontainhas, in the Latin quarter boasts of a service held right out in the open with all its predominantly Catholic residents proud to come to the little 400-year-old St Sebastian Chapel – bumped into our neighbour, the legendary architect Charles Correa and his beautiful wife after the service over a piece of cake and coffee, generously served up by the padre !

Retreating to our ancestral-home (now a heritage homestay too), we pour ourselves some hand-made red wine (from my neighbour Pinto, as in Pinsons), something normally associated with Christmas the world over.

Christmas-day is a social affair with a few early visits to neighbours and close friends. otherwise it is a family-lunch that starts at noon and ends whenever you wish it to !

Culinary-wise, the Goan table on Christmas-day recreates a traditional feast handed down the ages with very little modifications. It must include lots of red wine, a pork dish, maybe roast, suckling pig replete with the apple in the mouth or at least sorpotel or cabidela de leitao. Add a roast chicken trussed a la turkey style, a beef assad, a whole fish lathered in reshaad masala and arroz (pullao), to ensure a fitting tribute to the girth of Santa ! Round it off with Christmas plum cake and a sherry … and if you choose to ( well, I did ! ), a fat Cuban cigar – ah ! the world seemed merrier through the blue haze, hic !!

Did I “have yourself a Merry Christmas” ( Frank Sinatra’s rendition is superb) ? The answer is simply – yes I did – and a full “12 days of Christmas” (amusingly calculated by PNC Wealth Mgmt to cost $ 107,300) !!!

 Thank God for our home in Goa, now restored as Mitaroy Goa Heritage HomeStay in the Latin quarter of Fontainhas.

Christmas in Goa – Reflections

My mother blogs from Goa…

This was to be my second Christmas in Goa. My nephew’s new Goan bride tells me its the best place in India to celebrate Christmas. My daughter asked me what I felt was so special about Christmas in Goa – she thought it was like Christmas everywhere, with houses decorated with stars and lights and Christmas trees and cribs.

But my husband pointed out that Christmas in unique in Goa, in the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas with its cluster of Heritage Homes (and Homestays such as The Mitaroy, Goa where I am staying) and where a lady can safely walk alone for midnight Mass. It is only in Fontainhas that you can have a 400 year old St Sebastian chapel puts chairs on the road for the service since all the houses surrounding it are Catholic and their owners keep their doors open and attend the Mass from their hall rooms! The service for the 500 people gathered together is made meaningful with a live enaction of the Nativity. The beautiful choir had a lovely soprano singing “Mary Did You Know” along with other traditional and new Carols.The short sermon stressed the light that Jesus brought into our lives!

After Mass while sharing the delicious plum cake and hot coffee (generously offered by the priest to foster communal harmony) to ward off the cold (yes, its the only time Goans enjoy a little cold weather) we meet and greet our neighbours -the tiny tots,the teens the adults and very old have all come decked in their Christmas best-one can see all the latest fashion in gowns and skirts. Our famous resident Goa’s famous architect Charles Correa has come with his wife all the way from the other side of the Mandovi because it feels so Christmassy in the old Latin Quarter of Fontainhas.

Almost every house is decorated with lights and stars (some after a fresh coat of paint) in the neighbourhood of Fontainhas with its majority of Catholic residents and for days one hears Carols playing loudly, giving the whole neighbourhood a festive air. “Zai re, maka Zai re, Santa munta maka zai re”- Santa’s season is celebrated with great pomp in Goa. Lunch tables are loaded with traditional fare like roast suckling pig and stuffed turkey. My friend Martha D’ Cunha has invited us for lunch with her extended family – the table groans with the weight of different delicacies like roast stuffed chicken, pork vindaloo, chicken xacutti, beef assad with sannas and Arrroz pulao. The food is accompanied by lots of red wine and sherry and ends with a delicious Christmas pudding and Christmas plum cake made lovingly by the entire family, along with the regular traditional Goan sweets of kuswar, doss, bebinca, nevrios, kulkuls and dodhol. It is okay to indulge this festive season, I tell myself.

The party continues and the festive spirit will last till Goans usher in the the New Year with their own typical bonhomie and camarderie.Yes Goans really do love to enjoy life to the full while welcoming the hordes of tourists who descend on Goa at this time – you dont feel odd to wish a stranger a Merry Christmas – its all one big family celebration!!

Soon it is time to return to Bangalore and to work but I cant help looking forward to another festive Christmas in Goa next year…

Christmas in Goa

My mother Dr Laura Nayak blogs from Goa:

In the past 27 years I have always spent Christmas in Bangalore with family and friends apart from once or twice in Delhi or Mumbai. But this time, with our son’s Hotel in Goa, my husband and I decided to experience Christmas in Goa like true Goans.

We reached here on18th December to a really chilly morning (most unlike our earlier Goan experiences where the weather was hot and sunny) On the 19th of December, Goa celebrated 50 years of Goan Liberation. We spent the day reading the whole story of Goan Liberation in different papers and then watching all the schools in the neighbourhood take out parades with drums and slogans in different directions. The Government of Goa also organised several programmes, among them the honouring of the famous architect Charles Correa – the world renowned son of the soil whose fame has spread far beyond the shores of his native state of Goa. Following which, there were several musical events and speeches.

Slowly the city of Panjim is getting dressed up for Christmas – the old heritage houses and hotels are painstakingly decorated with stars, Christmas trees and colourful lanterns. Lots of Santas and people singing carols in the church square.

When I was young, we youngsters used to go carol singing in Delhi from one Christian/Catholic house to another and to the Embassies as well. We were always offered plum cake, “kuswar” (a traditional Goan/Mangalorean sweet), sweet wine and given money which went for a charitable cause – Our reward was a lovely picnic after New Year.

In Goa, they have a different tradition. People of all ages dressed in Santa caps and stoles and carrying colourful lanterns walk the streets singing christmas carols to spread Christmas Cheer in the neighbourhood of Fontainhas, for both Christians and Non Christians alike. They warmly welcomed me to the group and I must say I really enjoyed reliving my childhood experience.

Most Christian households in Goa are busy making “kuswar” (with some just buying from the nearest bakery) and cakes, putting up the crib and Christmas trees. Apart from the regular stores selling Christmas decorations, several makesift ones have come up across the neighbourhood of Fontainhas. Stars of different sizes and colours have come up. And of course everyone is making the rich plum cake and different wines to share with friends and family. One old neighbour even asked me whether I’ve got my new dress ready!!!

Tomorrow we get ready for the open – air midnight mass, in front of the Church singing lots of christmas carols (the choirs have been practising seriously for the past few days) and after greeting each other come home for cake and wine.

Then to get up on Christmas Day and enjoy the festive feeling, exchange sweets with neighbours and friends and settle down to a hearty Christmas lunch.

Merry Christmas to All!