Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in Jessore
December 25, 2008

I took my motorcycle from Dhaka to Jessore on Christmas Eve. I needed to go deal with some issues with my land and couldn't bear the thought of being in a crowded bus for 6 hours, so I strapped a bag to the back of my bike and took off. It was cold and foggy in Dhaka when I left. As I drove further south, the clouds lifted and the landscape became cleaner and greener; I knew I was approaching Jessore!

I don't celebrate Christmas anymore, but Koli (my agent) really wanted me to celebrate with his family. He is Muslim, but as a child he went to a Christian school and would go out singing Christmas carols with his friends. While I was there a group of Christian carolers did pass by his house. They sounded more like a political rally than "Silent Night", however!

Koli wanted me to bake him a "Christmas cake", which I believe is the tradition in Bangladesh. Since we don't really have Christmas cakes in the U.S., I was going to make them a gingerbread house instead. They didn't have an oven, however, so we had to buy a cake from the store. Bangladeshi food is prepared on burners, so most Bangladeshis don't have ovens. Only a few rich people who like to eat Western food have them.

Instead of the gingerbread house, I decided to do stockings for the children. This too proved to be a bit of a challenge since most Bangladeshis don't wear socks! It is so hot here and you take off your shoes whenever you go inside, so most people wear sandals. Some of the men wear socks when they wear suits, however, so we were able to scavenge up a few. I suppose that I complicated things a bit too when I told them that all of the socks had to be different so the children could tell which ones were theirs... In the end, we scavenged up several socks, a couple of hats, and one glove for Koli!

I explained about Santa Claus and his reindeer which really amused the children. I also told them that each year Santa makes a list of the children who are naughty and nice. The nice children get presents and the naughty children get coal or rocks.

Then when all of the kids went to bed, Koli, Shompa (his wife), and I filled the stockings with candy and oranges. I was surprised that the socks (real socks!) were only half full. In the U.S. we use giant oversized socks and every year they are brimming with presents. I honestly think our Bangladeshi stockings were probably more authentic!

Since they don't have fireplaces in Bangladesh (it is hot here!) we pinned the stockings on a line above the door to the kitchen. In the morning the children all came down and got their socks. The kids were particularly delighted with all of the candy which is relatively expensive here and therefore is not eaten as often (and certainly not in such large quantities!)

After the stockings were open, they wanted to sing Christmas carols. (Bangladesh has a strong tradition of singing.) I taught them how to sing Jingle Bells. Duti, Koli's six year old daughter, caught on really fast! She only knows a few words of English, but after just two choruses she was able to sing along!

All in all it was a very nice Christmas. Next year though I want to bring them a gingerbread cake...

Hanging the Stockings
We hung the stockings (and hats and glove) over the door to the kitchen.


Stockings After Santa
One of the full stockings (which for some reason is inside out.) We kept adding children who would be celebrating with us and so had to keep finding socks! Santa eventually ran out of candy so Koli (the glove) ended up getting a rock for Christmas. The children found this hysterical!


Duti and Candy
Koli's adorable daughter, Duti, with the candy from her stocking.

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