Christmas in India
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The Santa economy in 2019
In the last few years, Christmas has gone from big to huge — pot-bellied men across the country don the red costume at malls, offices, residential societies and even airports. The market has grown so much that Santa rentals have sprouted across the country. Namia Jasuja, who runs Delhibased event company Order Happiness, has employed 33 Santas this year. The demand, she says, is for English-speaking Santas who go to people’s homes to give their kids a surprise. “We also send across a cloth envelope that says ‘emergency delivery from the North Pole’. It’s very customised, so they talk about the ways in which the child has been nice and how they can improve, like brushing their teeth at night,” Jasuja says.
So, who are these people inside the Santa costume? Most of them are aspiring actors, singers, the odd magician, and college students who do it for some extra cash. Ravi Bhatt, co-founder of Rising Balloon, says they choose people who are good actors and don’t come out of character. “The most important thing is actually their eyes since that’s the only thing that’s visible under the costume. They have to be happy and be able to make others happy.” Chief Santa at Rising Balloon is Kevin Fernandes who morphed from being a chubby teenage Santa into the co-founder of a company that supplies Father Christmas. “Santa had always been magical to me, having grown up watching Christmas movies and I liked the whole experience,” says the 33-yearold who along with his crew of 15 Santas are all set to spread holiday cheer at kids’ and office parties across Mumbai.
Jasuja says their costume comes prebellied, and skin colour is no bar since they have makeup artists on the payroll. “They have to have a good voice and be very extroverted,” she says. Most also train their Santas in delivering a hearty ‘ho ho ho’ and interacting with kids.
Co-ordinating the Santas isn’t all roses though. Jasuja says, “We have 7-8 people planning the routes on the backend. Each Santa has a car and driver. We also face the wrath of the police,” she says. “They want so many selfies! So we have extra chocolates and toffees for them.” Last year, they serviced about 16-17 corporates and visited over 75 houses across Delhi NCR.
While there are an increasing number of companies supplying Santas, for others, it’s a oneman show. For the last decade, a certain gentlemen from Delhi has been donning the rather intimidating role. Committed to his character, he insists that he be referred to only as ‘The Santa Claus of India,’ rather than his name.
“It’s not as easy as it appears because you can’t be yourself as a person, you are Santa. It helps that I am a theatre person,” he says. The Santa Claus of India has been working at Delhi’s Select CityWalk mall for the last four years. “Before me, they were only hiring Europeans,” he says. The rest of the year, he does events, mostly as an anchor.
Amit Agarwal runs OckyPocky, a kids’ language learning app, but come December, he gets in the Christmas spirit. His company offers visits from Santa even though it has nothing to do with their core business. “We promise a very personal experience for children. There’s a song and dance routine, we bring decorations and gifts, as well as a Christmas meal, make a video so the family will cherish the moment forever.”
And these personalised grand surprises don’t come cheap. OckyPocky’s Christmas package starts at Rs 5,000 and goes up to Rs 25,000, while Delhi-based Order Happiness charges Rs 5,000. Fernandes says they pay about Rs 1,500 an event, plus food and travel expenses.
Since Santa can’t come too early, nor too late, the Santa business is a limited affair, lasting at most 10 days a year. But even when oddly-timed gigs come up, the ability to improvise is part of the job, The Santa Claus of India says. “Once I was performing on the 15th of December and someone asked me why I was here so early,” he says, then puts on his pitch perfect Santa voice: “It’s snowing so much in the North Pole that I had to come to India where it’s warmer.”
Mangalore-based event company Celebrations hires college students for events and mall appearances. They charge between Rs 2,000-2,500 per Santa, and the students take anywhere between Rs 400-800 based on performance. However, co-founder Sam Pinto is apprehensive that the downturn and prohibitory orders might derail some Christmas events.
For the Santas themselves, while dealing with the occasional snotty brat with kindness can be a pain, it is a joyful experience. Vinod has been a Santa with Jasuja’s company since 2013. He’s not an actor, but an employee at a telecom company who just does the gig for the love of it, even though he admittedly makes not all that much. “When I started, I was really struggling in my professional life, but it left me with a positive feeling, that I was being able to spread joy.”
In Tiswadi, Bhironda and Guleli
In Goa’s heartland, Christmas is about communal harmony
KERI: While is celebrated with much pomp and fanfare in urban parts of the state, rural Goa has traditionally opted to mark the much-anticipated Christian festival as a closeknit celebration of communal harmony. This year is no different.
The tribal Gaude of the Tiswadi taluka, who were [converted] during the Portuguese rule in Goa but were later reinstated into Hinduism, still maintain the age-old practice of honouring the Holy Cross in the vicinity of their settlement at Nauxi, near Bambolim.
Called the Nav-Hindu Gaude due to their re-entry into Hinduism through a ‘shuddhi’ (purification) movement by spiritual leader Vinayak Maharaj Masurkar in 1930, they also invoke the blessings of the Holy Cross during the annual Zagor festival and offer garlands to it. At Angodwada, which skirts the Colvale river in Pernem taluka’s Ibrampur, 12 Dhangar families look forward to Christmas celebrations at the 13 homes of their Catholic neighbours.
“Every year, the Catholic families happily take part in our Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations by visiting our houses eating vegetarian food and sweets. During Christmas, we visit their homes and relish nevreos, dodol and others delicacies. We look forward to Christmas,” Chandrakant Shinde, a villager, told TOI.
A similar camaraderie is seen in Bhironda and Guleli in Sattari despite the Catholic population there being much lesser than the Hindus. Populations, however, do not seem to matter. “In our ward, the Catholic families are in majority. There are only eight Hindu houses, but we live in communal harmony. We love to take part in Christmas celebrations and they relish the vegetarian food offered during our festive occasions,” Swapnil Valvoikar from Vazri of Sankhali, said