A Christmas Miracle
By Riddhima Poddar
“Do you mind if I spend Christmas with you?” I asked someone who I had barely known for five minutes. What I didn’t know then, however, was that it would make all the difference.
Certain events in our lives leave a lasting impression. They shape our understanding of the world, how we perceive those around us, and how we perceive ourselves too. These events also influence how we cope with challenging circumstances. More often than not, they act as a resource that we can tap into when we are uncertain about our course of action. For me, one such event occurred in the winter of 2019. Whenever I find myself losing hope in humanity, I tap into this memory.
You see, back in 2019, I lived in a city that didn’t quite feel like home. Unlike my friends who had left for their respective hometowns during the winter break, I was ushered towards the crude awakening of how utterly isolated I felt in an alien city that only appeared familiar because of a few familiar faces.
I will not get into the details of how I stumbled upon this family. Maybe it was a mere coincidence- a happenstance, maybe it was fate or maybe it was a “Christmas Miracle”, as they often put it. Regardless, from the moment I stepped foot into the trio’s house, I was engulfed in a pleasant warmth that was reminiscent of my own home. As we had tea and I admired their magnificent Christmas tree, we started exchanging stories of how our different cultures celebrated various festivities.
“Do you mind if I spend Christmas with you?” I asked the three generations of exceptionally strong, charming and kind women. My heart started pounding in my chest, wincing at the absurdity of what I had blurted out. Their response, almost instantaneously, was in affirmative.
We went to the midnight mass together, where ‘Dida’, the eldest of the three, patiently quenched my inquisitive streak. We listened to the unabashedly political sermon, and sang hymns- some I knew and some were new.
I don’t know how to put it in words, but the experience I had that night was exuberant. It was the first time I had experienced religion as something more than just religion. It wasn’t just about people with similar beliefs gathering together but was about sharing a communal space where people willingly partook in the joys and sorrows of those around them. Even though I didn’t share the same beliefs as them, everybody there made a genuine effort to get to know me, make me feel included and accept me as I were.
We bonded over coffee, rum cake and laughter, underneath the blanket of shimmering stars. For the first time in what seemed like an era, I felt like I belonged.
Every time I look back at that night, I find myself wondering whether this is what interfaith harmony looks like. Where our identity of a fellow being trumps every other overlapping or contradicting identity; where it doesn’t matter what religious, socio-political or economic background one comes from, where acceptance of the ‘other’ is in abundance.
The next day, we exchanged gifts, had a hearty Christmas meal and spent the rest of the afternoon singing karaoke. When it was finally time for me to leave, I knew I was leaving behind my inhibitions regarding religion. Religion, which I had deemed as something inflexible, something that created a divide in the society, proved to be something much larger than my shallow understanding of the same. I couldn’t be more grateful than I already am, for I could experience the togetherness that a communal space brings.