Stories from the Road: Christmas in India

Stories from the Road is a collection of stories about my own photographic adventures in South Asia. Sometimes the stories are exciting and sometimes mundane and at times emotional. This section deals with vernacular photography and the way we all experience the photographs we see. What they meant when we took them and what they mean over time.

Christmas in India, 2016

I am sitting here writing this post on December 22, 2018. I was just looked through my photographs and discovered, I do not have any that were taken on Christmas Eve or Christmas day the year I spent the holiday season in India. That seems strange but also not as I usually do not photograph the holidays. Anyway, the photographs I do have were taken on December 22, 2016. Exactly two years ago to the day. Strange to realize what you were doing exactly two years ago. The holiday and New Year season, for me at least, is always a time of reflection. It is interesting to think about all the changes in my life over the last two years. Two years ago, I was living in Udaipur, Rajasthan and had the pleasure of spending Christmas in India. The overall experience was one with extreme highs, extreme lows and a few flat lines.

Anyway, the photographs that you see above were taken at different times of the day and in different parts of the city. As far as I can remember, it was a pretty good day. I do not remember any fighting or anything. We might have been out doing some Christmas shopping. The first photograph above shows mannequins dressed up for Christmas. I was highly amused. There is a small Protestant population in Udaipur, but by far the majority of the residence are Hindu. So I had to take a photograph of the mannequins with Santa hats! I am sure it is on my Instagram account if you go back two years. The other photograph shows me on a horse. I am terrified of horses because I fell off of one when I was a child and landed on a piece of corrugated metal. Anyway, there is a market called Shilpgram across town from the market where the mannequins were. Shilpgram is more of a tourist market with “luxury” items rather than everyday items that would be found at the other market in town. I have been there just shopping and for a food festival. At this time, they were having a holiday festival and a friend Kunal had asked Meropi and me if we wanted to go with him. We accepted his invitation and headed out. It was obviously dark once we got there. First thing I rode the horse. A way of trying to get over a fear I guess. Then we went to the small amphitheater to watch a play already in progress. It was not a Christmas play. I have no idea what was going on. After watching the play for a short while we walked through the stalls. At one point, I found something I wanted. Ceramic heads. There were male and female ones and they were wearing Indian accessories. I needed them. I was going to buy them for myself but Kunal spoke up and said he wanted to buy them as my Christmas present. Meropi was not going to have any of that, so they went back and forth about who was going to pay for them. In the end she did. I wish I would have purchased them myself so that their presence in my life would not be attached to someone else, but it is what it is. These two heads are on the bookshelf in my room. I see them every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed. I love these heads. In a way they just are. They just represent a time in my life. The best and worst time of my life to be exact. 

Though I have no photographs, Christmas Eve is an evening I will never forget. Meropi and I went to the City Palace for the Christmas celebration. It is probably the most upscale event I have ever been to. There were other friends of our there and we made new ones. There was a choir singing Christmas carols and the champagne flowed freely. For most of the evening, we chatted, ate hors d’oeurves and drake champagne. I have no memory of what the hors d’oeurves were exactly but the conversation was good. Later in the evening, we relocated to another area of the palace with a small group. There we had some traditional Christmas food including turkey! The palace is one of the few places you can get turkey in India. They keep them year round just for the occasion. It was a lovely evening.

On Christmas day Meropi and I went to Subir and Minna’s house for dinner. Minna is from Finland and one of her Finnish friends and that woman’s Indian boyfriend was there, plus Subir’s father. We had the most interesting Christmas dinner ever. Minna’s friend had made a dish popular in Finland, Meropi and I made chicken fajitas, and there was Indian food. It was a cool experience to eat food others would eat for Christmas and to spend the holiday with such a diverse group of people. This was also a fantastic day and evening, that I would not trade for anything. Interestingly, I do not really remember what happened earlier in the day. It is possible Meropi and I exchanged Christmas gifts, but we may have done it on Christmas Eve. However, I do remember giving her the most ridiculous Christmas gift I have ever given anyone. A new paring knife. She likes to cook and the knife she had was dull. I guess it is the equivalent of giving your wife a new vacuum for Christmas. I hope she gets better presents this year.

I wish I was reliving my Udaipur Christmas this year. Instead, I am in New Mexico with my mom and on December 27 I am having surgery. My second for the year. I hope once this surgery is over I will not have any more health problems for a while. But this year I have a bottle of wine to go with Christmas dinner, so it is not a total loss.

I hope everyone around the globe has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and may your last week of the year be brighter than mine!


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By |2018-12-25T17:41:43-06:00December 25th, 2018|India|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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