Christmas in Goa

by Mel D’Souza

When I was a young lad growing up in Saligao, Goa,  back in the 1950s, we didn’t celebrate Christmas in the village the way it was celebrated by fellow villagers living in other parts of the world, where British and Western traditions prevailed. Theirs were luxuries we couldn’t afford.

We knew about “Father Christmas” (Santa Claus) and the toys he gave to little kids. But my mother, who didn’t think it necessary to spend money on toys, had told me much earlier that there really wasn’t a Santa Claus. So, our Christmases revolved around the nativity scene – the stable where Jesus was born, the star that guided the Three Kings to Bethlehem, and the Christmas carol, Silent Night.

Fortunately for me, the parents of my buddies were just as frugal as my mom, so none of us had any toys to show and tell for our Goan Christmas. But we had other things to brag about that we constructed with our own little hands – like the props for the nativity scene and the traditional internally illuminated star.

The nativity scene (“crib”) was set up on a small covered table in the sitting room, each Christmas in Goa. We’d make a stable out of a cardboard box, top it with straw, and paint the sides to look like stone blocks. Then we’d lay out all the figurines of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in the stable, surrounded by sheep and cattle and other farm animals. Flanking the stable would be figurines of the Three Kings.

As far as I can recall, most of the figurines were beautifully carved and to scale. And they were probably antique, having been passed down from one generation to the other. But, alas, I didn’t recognize their value at the time.

Then we’d work on the star, the most romantic and beautiful symbol of a Goan Christmas! The star was made out of narrow flexible bamboo slats of sizes ranging anywhere in length from about 18 inches to 24 inches, sometimes longer, and covered in coloured tissue paper.

The way I assembled my star was to start with two frames, each made up of five slats of equal length tied in the shape of a five-pointed star. I would then tie the two frames together at the five points before placing short bamboo trusses between the frames to create a bulge in the middle. The next step would be to glue coloured tissue paper over the frame with a sticky paste of flour and water. The letters ‘HAPPY CHRISTMAS’ would then be cut out of red coloured paper and stuck over the central panel. Finally, the star would be hung in the balcão (balcony) and illuminated with either a candle or an oil lamp.

Christmas star: Saligao, Goa. [Sketch by Mel D'Souza ©]

My friends and I would then call on each other to determine whose nativity scene or star was the best, each Christmas in Goa. And I always came out on top, thanks to my dexterity with a penknife and a natural gift for drawing.

But, regardless how good or how crude the construction, the warm glow of that star, hanging in the balcão of homes silhouetted against the dark backdrop of tropical trees under a clear starry night, was something to behold and Christmas in Goa was always heart-warming and mellow. It exuded an aura of peace and tranquility, it lifted our spirits in hard times, and it etched itself indelibly in the memories of anyone who ever experienced Christmas in Goa.

3 comments on Christmas in Goa

  • Mervyn Maciel

    Hi Mel,
    Rather late in the day, I have enjoyed reading your wonderful story of
    those innocent Christmas celebrations of yesteryears. How content we were with the little we had. As you rightly point out, the focus was on
    the Christmas story – the Nativity scene. Am afraid, am not as gifted as you are(creatively speaking), but the best I could do was to scatter some sand on the table top and use a small pocket mirror to create a pool!
    Your article made me feel young again!
    Thanks for introducing me to this site which Tony had mentioned earlier. Not sure whether my own village has a site as well presented as the Saligaokar’s!

  • sandra dourado

    It was wonderful reading all the material n information of the saligao serenade.I am the grandchild of saligao. My grandparents were Jules Gomes Chesrose and Aramita nee Lobo Gomes Chesrose originally from Don Vaddo but settled in mahim mumbai.They are now deceased.But the information on this site is so very very interesting and touching it brings back nostalgic memories of life in saligao way back. Keep it up

  • Caroline cordeiro e pinto

    I think of my days as a child,growing up in Saligao. It wasn’t the gifts that mattered at all. I remember going from house to house Carol singing. Meeting at the Saligao club for the December activities and competitions as well as the hops.The nights seemed so bright with stars and alive with the sound of our laughter.

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