Who’d have thought three women in saris would have caused such a stir on Christmas Eve….
As if there wasn’t enough excitement this year with all the family together in our new Devon home, some special Indian gifts were handed out on Christmas Eve. Our daughter, who had just returned from four months volunteering in Northern India, was hopping from one foot to the other keen to hand out her long planned presents.
“Let’s do the Indian presents now, before we eat?” She suggested.
Her brothers frowned… “It’s not Christmas yet…”
But she wouldn’t be put off and there was dressing up involved.
A few minutes later three ornately embroidered saris were laid out beneath the Christmas tree, gold thread glistening under the fairy lights, amidst ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and ‘thank you – how beautiful’. The next step was for three of us to dress up in them, which involved a lot of careful folding and draping and fixing a few well placed safety pins. Some time later we paraded down the stairs in our finery and enjoyed a delicious meal together.
We usually attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve and this year we were planning to join the little parish church in the village. However, due to clergy staffing problems, the 11.30pm service had become a 9pm event and suddenly we were in a rush.
“We can’t go in saris!” Someone exclaimed as others pulled on coats and boots and set down half full glasses of wine.
“Why not?” said the driver – who does a lot of dressing up in uniforms for his day job.
And that was how it happened. Scooping up our colourful skirts, we piled into the minibus still slightly unsure about the wisdom of our attire on a dark December night in deepest Devon. On arrival outside the church we managed to negotiate the stone steps towards the lantern lit pathway to the church. Another family all wearing bobble hats arrived at the entrance at the same time and looked slightly surprised to see us in our finery.
“We’re Indians!” I said in explanation, which confused people even more and made everyone giggle (or was it just the wine?).
As we traipsed into the candlelit church and filed into pews, there were plenty of smiles and whispers of admiration.
“I didn’t know it was fancy dress…” Someone behind us mumbled.
Even the vicar announced she was looking forward to finding out about the mysterious costumes after the service and then spent the rest of the time dropping her books, announcing the wrong carols and searching for her sermon notes in a very thick bookmarked folder.
At the end of the service there just wasn’t time to explain to everyone why we’d worn saris, although our in-house chaplain had already announced we were ‘the Three Wise Women from the East’, which left people even more confused.
By Christmas morning the saris had long been folded away and we headed down to the beach clasping bottles of fiz and smoked salmon sandwiches to join in the traditional ‘Christmas at the Beach’ celebrations with the locals. As we met more of our neighbours in a huddle beside a ruined tower, sheltering from the wind, one lady said how much she had enjoyed the Christmas Eve service.
“But what was very strange,” she said, confidentially, “some people came dressed in saris. They looked lovely, but I don’t know what it was all about.”
It certainly was a mystery. And a much-discussed event for the village.
I chuckled into my glass, as someone sidled up and said, “It was you in the saris wasn’t it?”
Some garbled explanation was begun, but minutes later another kind of costume became the focus of attention as some of our children and their friends stripped down to bikinis and boardies and ran into the freezing grey water. There were shouts and cheers from the Champaign swigging onlookers. There’s nothing like a Christmas Day dip in the sea!
Now, the big question for 2018 is, what shall we wear to church on Christmas Eve?