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Published: December 26th 2009
Today is December 26th and we have just spent the last two days enjoying Christmas in India. On or about December 23rd, the Christmas decorations began appearing in India storefronts, businesses and on Indian houses. There were stars a plenty, multicoloured streamers and even the occasional strand of Christmas lights. However, not a Christmas palm tree to be found!
Christmas Eve was a full day for us. It began with a Christmas concert at Arunachala Village School. This was not what one might expect, Cheryl and Lucas sitting contentedly watching the children perform, rather it was Lucas and Cheryl and others from AHAM performing for the children. We had the shear pleasure of looking out into a sea of beautiful faces, while Vivian read a Christmas story in English as two of the teachers simultaneously translated into Tamil. The children enjoyed the story but not near as much as Vivian enjoyed sharing it. We then sang Christmas carols including a fine rendition of Frosty the Snowman, a crowd favourite because they enthusiastically joined in for the verse that goes……
Thumpety, thump, thump
Thumpety, thump, thump
Look at Frosty go
Thumpety, thump, thump
Thumpety, thump, thump
Over the hills of snow
Needless to say, we sang that one verse countless times.
In preparation for the event, the children created a small nativity scene, and decorated the area with Santa’s, snowmen and snowflakes. One little boy dressed up as Santa with a big stomach and all. He took his job very seriously! He was very good at wishing each and everyone of us a very Happy Christmas. The teachers did a remarkable job of making our customs familiar to them. It was very touching. Arunachala Village School is committed to honouring other customs and cultures as well as the local Hindi traditions. This was their Christmas gift to us. Before leaving, we handed out 200 plus notebooks and pencils as a gift for each of the students. It was a very special day with lots of love and laughter. An afternoon that we will not soon forget.
That same evening Lucas headed off with Swami and Annamalai, two of our friends from AHAM. They loaded up a rickshaw with blankets for the street people and Sadhus around Tiruvannamalai. The blanket saga began last Saturday. Lucas and I collected donations from a number of folks at AHAM and with the money
in our Punjabi, we headed downtown to find some basic, inexpensive blankets. Now Lucas is not much of a shopper at the best of times, but when it comes to getting a good price for a good cause he is a champ. We pounded the pavement in the hot Indian sun for nearly four hours going from shop to shop. Not surprisingly, we met several challenges. They included the language barrier. One shop keeper kept telling us no problem, come back later when we knew he had no clue about what we were looking for. There was also the Muslim shop keeper that had one of his shop girls practically drag us off the street and then offered to cut double blankets in half to meet our required price. The best part was when he smiled sincerely into our eyes, kissed each of hands and held them to his heart…. You can imagine how difficult it was to walk out of that store. My favourite challenge was stepping in a big pile of cow sh_t. After much scraping and rubbing I realized there was a group of locals in a nearby shop having a good chuckle at my predicament. Well
Teacher and Little One
Aruna - The teacher is absolutely lovely as is her little charge who fell asleep where she sat shortly after this picture was taken
the truth is, it was pretty funny. Finally one kind gent, offered me some water to get the worst of it off.
Finally after much back and forth, Lucas settled on one shop with good blankets, at a decent price and a shop keeper who spoke some English. We were pretty sure he know what we were looking for. On Wednesday night we were able to pick up the blankets, the shop keeper expressed his gratitude for both the business and our efforts and the efforts of our AHAM friends to support the locals who struggle with poverty
Anyway, back to Christmas Eve…. and the blankets. It is quite cool here at night, by India standards and the idea of blankets for at least some of those who sleep on the streets seemed like a good one. So Lucas, Swami and Annamalai headed off on Christmas Eve night to spread the blankets. Swami, who knows many of the Sadhus and others who live on the street was the official distributor. In some cases, a blanket was spread over a sleeping figure. Sometimes a group of Sadhus would come looking for a blanket. In very short order, 150 blankets
were distributed and a second round was planned for the following night. Unfortunately I was at home struggling with a bit of tummy trouble… a common ailment around India.
Christmas Day was spent at AHAM with our AHAM family. A morning Satsang was well attended by people from all over the world. There were Germans, Japanese, Canadians, Americans and Australians to name a few. Satsang means to be in the company of the highest truth and it involves discussion and discourse typically with a Guru or teacher, in this case with AHAM’s A. Ramana. It was a beautiful morning. There was laughter and insights in equal measure and of course excellent company.
The AHAM Christmas party began at 4 pm and included staff and other members of the AHAM family. Many of the staff brought their children and once again there was some singing of Christmas carols, One of the highlights was Annamalai, sharing a Christmas story with the children in Tamil. He was lit up as bright as a Christmas tree, as were many of the children listening. It was a lovely moment. Another highlight was the beautiful dinner prepared by Suji and Munnima. It was a
traditional meal prepared for celebrations, sometimes served for a wedding breakfast. ( You have to understand the Indian weddings last at least two days and include multiple meals) I have to admit… that the westerners (including Lucas and I) shared collective longing for turkey, stuffing and mash potatoes.
I can’t share the Christmas experience without sharing a little bit on Hanukah. The truth is that for me the seasonal celebrations began a couple of weeks ago. I have to admit that it felt a little lonely to be here at Hanukah. No menorah, no boys… Not being one to mope for long though, I took the opportunity to spread a little Hanukah cheer around the AHAM Ashram…. Lucas and I had committed to making lunch for the AHAM gang over Hanukah and it was the perfect time to throw together some of my semi-famous potato latkes and home made apples sauce. (Yes… there are apples in India) It was a big hit with Ramana, Vivian and some of the Indian staff.
The most potent part of Christmas in India was not about what happened, or what we did. It was about what this Christmas meant to us. Just
before the holiday I picked up a book called “The Way to the Kingdom” by an anonymous author. The first page I turned to was a “Thought for Christmas”. As I read the chapter one line spoke to me. It asked me to recall “that experience in your life - when you first felt the quickening of the Christ - child (love, God consciousness, source) in the womb of your heart, when it began stirring actively there, not only making you very conscious of it’s presence, but compelling you to cherish, serve and worship it.” This Christmas, Lucas and I celebrated that moment in each of us. For it was that moment, that led to this moment and this Christmas in Tiruvannamalai.
My moment was nearly 15 years ago. It was the moment I knew beyond any shadow of doubt that my marriage of 13 years was over. I felt more alone and lost than I thought possible. I knew the life I thought I had was gone and I had absolutely no idea what I would do or how I would survive. In that moment of desperation, of deep and all encompassing despair, I heard a voice. The
voice came from inside of “me“, but was not “me“. That voice said clearly. “You are not alone. I love you.” I spent the next ten years keeping the secret of that voice and at the same time seeking the source of that voice. I now know beyond any shadow of doubt where that voice comes from and today as it has everyday of my existence, that voice comforts me, it shelters me and it is the peace that radiates from every cell of this body as I write this.
Lucas had several close encounters with “the voice”, or God Consciousness over the course of his life. The most memorable happened here in India, six years ago in January, when he walked into the AHAM Ashram for a Satsang with A. Ramana. On the wall was a picture of Jesus, the God of his childhood, and in the room there was such a feeling of peace and love. For the first time in his life, Christ came alive in him, for him. In February of that same year he took the meditation training offered by AHAM. On one momentous morning during that training, Lucas experienced a meditation where the
world as he knew it, the body he called his and the ego-mind that reigned supreme fell away and all that was left standing was this awareness, “the voice”, this God consciousness, this simple, beautiful being that we all are and the peace that at our core, most of us either now or at sometime in our life, will long to be.
It is these two moments, separated by time and space, that drew Lucas and I together. It is these two moments that led to this moment of now. It is these two moments we celebrated this Christmas.
For those of you who know the moment that marks your knowing, we invite you to celebrate with us. For those of you who are yet to know, our most heartfelt wish for you this holiday season is that you too, will experience this peace that surpasses all understanding.
I know…. Not exactly what you expected from a travel blog. The outer and the inner journey in one.
Love you all,
Happy Christmas Indian Style.
Cheryl and Lucas
PS. A couple of websites of interest if you would like for info about some
of what we shared
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