This year I spent my first year away from Australia for Christmas and it was nothing like I expected. Last year I spent Christmas day volunteering at the Sacred Heart Mission soup kitchen feeding the homeless, which wasn’t the most conventional of way to spend Christmas, but this one was certainly more of a culture shock.
When I first arrived at the hostel I am staying at in Varkala, India on the 17th of December, there were no Christmas decorations. Being a big Christmas fanatic, I was shocked to hear that they generally decorate on the 24th of December! I explained to the hostel manager that in Australia and many other countries around the world, Christmas is generally celebrated for over a month with decorations complete by early December and Christmas food in the shops from November.
Naturally being the Christmas enthusiast I am, I started to decorate, making use of what I could. I attempted to make Christmas tree centre pieces out of empty sprite bottles (they were the saddest Christmas decorations you could imagine) and started to collect empty beer bottles to paint. We went shopping and got some Christmas lights, tinsel and Santa hats. Another volunteer who I nicknamed Gotty because I can’t pronounce her whole name helped me to decorate the hostel. We even had some makeshift mistletoe in the entrance to the hostel.
It still didn’t have the same Christmas vibe as Melbourne, but it was something. There were a group of amazing travellers who came to stay over Christmas who made the whole thing very exciting as they shared my understanding of what Christmas felt like. They have a strange tradition in Varkala where buskers will travel in groups, one dressed as a creepy Santa with a horrifying mask, others beating on loud drums and others in purge masks. This starts from a few days before Christmas and continues through to New Years Eve.
On Christmas eve my friend Mantapmatra was playing at Nomad Varkala and we had one of the best nights I have had in a long time. We all had dinner together and danced the night away and one of our talented guests of the hostel got up with his guitar and played a few songs. Friends that I had made recently volunteering at a rural school a few hours away had also made their way down for Christmas Eve and it was amazing to see them and spend some time with them for Christmas. By the end of the night the dance floor was jumping and everyone was dancing like they didn’t care.
Christmas morning everyone work up exhausted, but a few of us managed to go out for a Christmas breakfast. Christmas day was nothing overly exciting other than lunch with my friend Man, who was playing the live music the night before. Other than that, Christmas day was ATM runs, watching a friend get tattooed and calls with friends and family. The hostel had planned a Christmas dinner for all the guests near the beach and where a gift exchange would take place. Unfortunately I was unable to take part in the Christmas dinner as a peanut masala was served, and if I died on Christmas it would probably put a bit of a dampener on the night.
Instead I went and saw Mantapmantra play again at another restaurant and enjoyed my time with friends around. I guess in summary it was nice to spend Christmas in a different country, with people from all over the world including Austria, England, Scotland, America, Colombia, Israel, Germany and likely many others that I can’t remember. It certainly made me miss my friends from back in Australia, but I am looking forward to seeing what Christmas next year brings from a different country.