I don’t know how I failed to see it coming, but in case you didn’t know, it’s Christmas Day tomorrow. There’s something about being in Dhaka that has deprived me any of the normal cues that would remind me to buy presents, put up a tree, cover my desk in tinsel, stockpile obscene amounts of food or otherwise empty my bank account. The supermarkets aren’t piping out cheesy Bing Crosby carols, the streets full of fairy lights are completely standard Bangladeshi decorations (so nothing out of the ordinary), and I have so far seen only two plastic deer in restaurant foyers. Christmas has come out of nowhere and it’s weird.
Like many people from the southern hemipshere, my idea of Christmas is a bit all over the shop. In theory, Christmas is about sleigh bells, mittens, and other things Julie Andrews likes to sing about, and while the festive seasons of my childhood were filled with the nostalgia of fake snow and pine trees, they were also defined by long days, endless swims at the beach, sunburn and paddlepops, and perfumed by a heady mix of sunscreen, mangos, frangipanis and pine needles.
In Dhaka, without the glaring sunshine and water-based fun of home, or the wintery wonderlandy cliche of Europe, I’m feeling a bit bewildered. What do you mean, it’s Christmas? I’m in a thin cardigan. I’m not remotely prepared to eat my weight in Terry’s chocolate oranges! I don’t even know where to source one!
At least people know that it’s a special time of year for us bideshis. We get a public holiday for “The Merry Christmas” as it’s commonly and adorably called, and my very sweet colleague Marium even gave me a Christmas present of some red and green earrings. A small minority of local people are Christian and celebrate themselves – Johnny, a friendly guy who serves at the counter of our work canteen, invited me to visit his family to celebrate – Bengali hospitality at its finest.
We do already have plans for Christmas day though – in a time-honoured expat tradition, we’re gathering together as each other’s substitute family to eat and drink and make merry. This year, that merriment will take place on a boat, floating about on the Buriganga River, just outside Dhaka. It seems fitting – we might not have all the traditions and trappings of home, but out on the water, sharing a homemade and crowd-sourced picnic, drinking the last of our duty free and wearing the hilariously ugly jumpers we found at the market, it’ll be a perfectly Bangladeshi Christmas.
Later…: Merry Christmas, everyone!