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'Twas the Week Before Christmas: The feathers of tradition

The third story in our holiday series, 'Twas the Week Before Christmas, is by Port Moody writer Ashney Rebello.

In the fabric of my family's customs, Christmas has always occupied a special place in our hearts. It is a season when joy and love come together to produce priceless memories.

While I was growing up in Goa, India, December was my family's favourite month, and we all celebrated Christmas with open hearts.

A childhood curiosity that became a legacy gave rise to one specific custom in our home. I remember that year, when I entered the neighbourhood's star-making contest as a wide-eyed child. I had no idea that this apparently straightforward activity would develop into a generation-spanning family custom.

I still vividly recall that I had been the only girl who attempted to enter the contest. The task was to design a star that would glow in the night sky and represent the joyous atmosphere that filled Goa throughout Christmas. Driven by a strong sense of purpose and equipped with my cousin Wency's support, I set out to create a star that would live on in my memories of our neighbourhood.

Interestingly, the materials I used for this creative project were unusual and unique: bird feathers. Wency assisted me as we carefully positioned and secured the feathers to create a fragile yet exquisite star that captured my fascination. The approach was more than just trying to win a competition; it was also about using the festive spirit to create something that expressed our customs and my personal interpretation of the holiday.

To my greatest delight, I ranked first when the results came out. I had no idea that this particular event would serve as the beginning of a tradition that connects both the present and the past and is currently passed on to my daughter.

The star-making custom gradually changed into a mother–daughter activity throughout time. I am savouring the chance to relive the wonder of that first star with my daughter. Her happiness is a reflection of the magic I experienced as a child, continuing a cycle of love and creation.

In retrospect, I see the slight effect that my involvement had on the young girls in my neighbourhood. It served as a spark for transformation, encouraging the girls in my neighbourhood to take the lead and take part in the ensuing years. Seeing this change was a triumph not only for me personally but also for our community's spirit as a whole, as boundaries were torn down and customs were revived.

Goa's Christmases have a certain charm all their own, an array of cultural diversity and close family ties. Homemade sweets infuse the air, leaving a lovely scent that echoes down the hallways of memories. The days before Christmas were usually quite busy in the household. My family and I would get together in our kitchen to make delicious sweets that would end up as the focal point of our Christmas feast.

The art of making sweets was a generation-to-generation tradition, a magical process in which ingredients became representations of unity and love. Every task, from mixing the dough for kulkuls to meticulously forming the layers of bebinca, was a cooperative effort that resulted in a symphony of laughter and shared memories. These treats were more than just delicious treats; they were physical representations of our ties to one another.

Another joy was decorating the house, a collaborative effort that turned our modest residence into a vibrant display of lights. The Christmas tree, decorated with ornaments gathered throughout the years, served as a symbol of our traditions' persistence and the passing of time. Memories fluttered like glitter as we strung each ornament, enveloping us in a cozy embrace of reminiscence.

As the years passed, life brought me to a new country where the customs of Goa had to change to fit in to the new surroundings. But our Christmas's true spirit was unaltered. Around this time, the little yearly community gathering at my house started to serve as an essential conduit to our history. It was an intimate representation of Goa in a distant place, uniting families who had travelled similar paths and demonstrating the tenacity of our customs.

The yearly get-together is a celebration of our shared cultural identity and an integration of experiences that we share rather than merely a chance to mingle. The sound of clinking glasses and laughter fills the air, creating a beautiful harmony that penetrates over distances.

I take great satisfaction in teaching my daughter the craft of making these traditional sweets. It feels to me like a means of keeping the tradition's spark burning brightly. Once again, the kitchen serves as an area for conversation and laughter, demonstrating the enduring quality of our traditions.

What started out as an individual's curiosity about star-making has blossomed into a little source of empowerment for women in my community back home. Each star, with its own distinct brilliance, has emerged as a result of the once-lone curiosity of a young girl. My involvement had sparked a slight societal shift that encouraged young girls to fully participate in the festivities and embrace their talents at the time.

For me, Christmas has evolved from being just an occasion to celebrate to a vibrant, living moment that enables me stay connected to my history, my family, and my community. Whether it was making the star, making sweets, or throwing the community gathering, the yearly customs serve as anchors amidst life's turbulent waves. They act as a reminder of my tradition's everlasting strength and as a link between the distant past and the present.

In reflection on the path from that initial star to the awaited neighbourhood get-togethers, I am overcome with gratitude for the diverse array of encounters that Christmas has interwoven into my life. It's about the laughter, the warmth of family, and an infectious joy that knows no bounds to time or place, rather than just about the festive decorations or sparkling lights.

These customs serve as foundations of stability in a world that is ever changing, reaffirming the principles that make us who we are. They serve as a reminder that the essence of Christmas and the customs we cherish will always find a way to reunite us with our loved ones, wherever life may lead us. Thus, we carry on celebrating, creating, and passing on the love, laughing, and feathers that characterize our own Christmas tales year after year.

Merry Christmas, everyone, from my family to yours.