In The Spirit: Salman Rushdie On Christmas

Salman Rushdie in Vogue:


Salman Rushdie with sisters Sameen and Nevid

When I was growing up in Bombay (which wasn't Mumbai then, and still isn't in my personal lexicon), Christmas wasn't really a thing. Not only were we not Christians, we weren't a religious household, so December 25 was just that: the 25th of December. New Year's Day was much more significant. The above paragraph is not completely true. For one thing, the school I went to was called the Cathedral School, or, in full, the Cathedral and John Connon Boys' High School, run "under the auspices", whatever "auspices" were, of the Anglo-Scottish Education Society, whatever that was. As a result there were hymns at assembly every day of the year and "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" in December, and all of us, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsi, had to sing along. And because we were, after all, schoolboys, we learned the comic version of "Hark!" also. "Hark! the herald angels sing/ Beecham's Pills are just the thing./ If you want to go to heaven/ Take a dose of six or seven./ If you want to go to hell,/ Take the whole damn box as well."

Also, my sisters and I had a wonderful Christian ayah, Mary Menezes from Mangalore, a devout Roman Catholic who helped to raise us, and because of whom my mother put up a (very small) tree and made us sing carols to her on Christmas morning. Other than the brief appearance of the tree and the singing, though, there was nothing. Turkey? Mince pies? Brussels sprouts? Of course not. We had much tastier food to eat. And presents were for birthdays and Eid.

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