Oriental motifs of curls, paisleys, little tendrils were sketched on Christmas bells. Two leaves of mistletoe with red berries adorned the top of the bell ( a mistake many didn't realize till late). A huge golden bow with its trailing ends hung from the sides. Come Christmas and the art periods in schools were busy with the single activity of making Christmas cards on art books. The more industtrious of the lot attempted replicating a Santa Claus. But bells were the most popular on drawing sheets followed by the tree. Some where vaguely the mistletoe hovered mostly as a filler.
Back home from school, more bells and Christmas trees were made on white chart papers cut out for cards. And more mistletoes. Nobody had the vaguest of idea why the parasitic twig found it's way into Christmas notions. Of course very few knew, in the pre Google era, that they lived off apple treees and oak trees. But they were aware of romantic allusions of standing under the mistletoe. Wasn't Betty forever trying to get Archie and herself under it so he would be compelled to kiss her?The only other reference to this twig was of course, by Goscinny. That was when he alluded to the pre Christian era. His character, the Gaul Druid Getafix, was mostly found emerging from behind oak trees with a golden sickle in hand. For mistletoe growing on oak trees was a rarity. It was the most essential ingredient of his famous magic potion, and had to be cut with a golden sickle. Most of this reference got burried under peals of laughter that his characters generated starting with Dogmatix to Cacofonix. Fed on the other popular 80s comics, a whole generation grew up lapping up white Christmases; of Moose dragging the yule tree for decoration; Veronica showing that chink of generosity in her haughty demeanor; the entire Archies gang singing carols against a white landscape; of brightly wrapped gifts under the Christmas trees and a general atmosphere of festivity, joy and charity...
Friends who went to Missionary schools came back with stories of Christmas carols. Those who didn't, listened awe struck. There was a mystical feel to the Christmas festivities in a land where celebrations of festivals were over the top, flamboyant and well...very familiar. The quiet warmth of Yuletide were confined to a few who went to churches, midnight mass and waited for gifts in stockings. For people spread across a land where December meant pleasant sunny climes in tthe coasts or foggy cold days in the plains, a whitewashed landscape with a thick icing of snow on sloping rooftops held a charm of the unseen. That there were many hill stations in India that saw white Xmas was an exotic idea. Travelling to places other than home towns had not yet caught the popular imagination in the pre liberalised India. If anyone did go to the hills, it had to be summers.
The idea of Xmas began with the alphabet book as a toddler and reinforced with the Archies and Hallmark cards. Or the Helpage, Cry and Unicef ones for those who were conscious of doing their bit. And these images continued to be replicated on art sheets and chart paper cards during the season. What excited, was a sense of partaking in a festival in whatever way it could be emulated. a festival that seemed distant and elusive. What began with cards, gradually moved to listening to carols, bringing in the tree, the gifts under them, the roasted chicken and the pudding. What started off as a tentative feel and acceptance of a festival that very few grew up with, had burst into a joyous anticipation a week prior to its advent. A Santa will be sauntering at most street corners of the city or walking around the malls. The Chinese Xmas trees in all sizes and their ornaments will be tumbling out of every store and Kirana of the neighbourhood. Children will continue to draw mistletoes with red berries not realizing they are actually hollies. And that mistletoes have rounded spoony leaves with yellowish white berries and hollies are prickly leaves of shrubs with red berries.
But who cares, as long as an occasion brings people together and spreads warmth and cheer, the right leaves or the correct order of rituals doesn't matter. Mrs Sharma's son will be tugging at his mother's pallu, " Ma, I also want a Christmas tree". A small plastic tree will be packed in a jiffy and pushed over the potatoes and the phul gobis in the shopping bag.