This Christmas we were faar, far away from home, and the only way to see Christmas mass that we all agreed upon was going to a Catholic church at 12am on Christmas morning.
By 11:30pm we were out the door, us girls dressed in sarees or brand new dresses.
We drove to the church, which seemed to be empty, in lieu of using the outdoors and plastic chairs. We found a spot and sat down. People who came after us carefully took hankies or rags out of their pockets and began wiping the seat, then the back of the chair. As I watched them, I wondered what on earth we'd been thinking.
Then the service started. They had the choir singing songs, and various members of the congregation coming up and reading… in Hindi and probably another incomprehensible language. The only ways we could tell it was the Christmas service was by listening to them reading and catching 'Jesu' and 'Cristi,' and recognizing the Christmas carols.
People were going up and down stairs to the pulpit (and perhaps the altar? Everything was so completely different it was almost like another religion entirely.), holding up candles to show the parish, holding up what looked to be a lamp and then something else. Girls were in what I think was the altar, which isn't allowed in the Eastern Orthodox church. Some of them were wearing what looked to be short prom dresses, they had so many bows and tucks. The choir girls had long white robes, as did the priests and the altar boys and girls.
The only part of the service we understood were the parts in English— one of St. Paul's letters, and a part that the priest said in English. That was it. We were standing up and sitting down and sometimes singing along to Christmas carols we'd never heard before, and crossing ourselves when everyone else did (incidentally, the Catholic cross is different from the E.O. Cross: we join our thumb, middle, and forefinger together and tuck the other two fingers into our palm, then touch our fingers to our forehead, chest/stomach, right shoulder, and then left shoulder, and then lower the hand. They seemed to use all their fingers, touching forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder, and then touching their thumb to their mouth.).
Through all this my saree hadn't been creased enough times in the middle, and I hadn't tied the petticoat high enough, so I'm standing and hoping that not too much dust got on the bottom!
We sat through the priest's sermon, which we didn't understand a word of, left quietly when everyone else did, accepted the cake people were handing out, got into the taxi that had brought us there, and came home.
WHERE… (and we children left the house first and entered it first too) we found two badminton rackets, two feather shuttlecocks, and two ankle bracelets.
Must be Santa!