Christians have very few festivals so we tend to extend the Christmas fun as much as possible. The best example for this is that of “Boxing Day”, traditionally this was observed a day after Christmas that is 26th of December. On this day the rich and high in the society used to distribute gifts to the servants and to the general population in boxes and thus the tern “Boxing” got derived from it. It has nothing to do with Boxing the sport but more to do with packing of gift in boxes.
As decades and centuries passed by this tradition was no more prevalent and often people extended the Christmas fun on the Boxing Day by going for a picnic or just go for an outing. Keeping with the tradition on this day we distribute Christmas Cakes and other snacks in our neighbourhood in boxes, more of a symbolic gesture. Out here in Kolkata out family also for generations visit the Zoo on Boxing Day in the morning. This we have been doing for decades and if the records are correct it started before 1920.
It was a big day for us when we were kids as this was out annual trip to the mini jungle within the city to meet the animals and also this was the day when we met some of our long and far relatives who came and join us. We had a fixed designated location within the zoo where we would usually sit and nearly 10 – 12 families who all were our relatives would join up.
The first thing we would do was to stake claim to the spot by laying large mats and covering them with equally large bed sheets. The elders would settle for a quick chit chat while the younger lot would start playing Babington or simply run around like monkeys.
We would often take a quick walk around the zoo and our all-time favourites were Gubey House where the monkeys were kept followed by the Elephants who would keep swaying from one side to the other and often collect coins with their trunk. During these rounds there were a quick round of ice cream followed by some candy floss.
The bears would often be seen sleeping in the open, taking in as much sunlight, similarly the same would be applicable for the crocodiles and the alligators. During our childhood most of the cages would be empty and we would try to spot something inside these empty cages. Rightfully this has improved very much in recent times and a lot many of the new species can be seen.
We would keep going around and would only return when it would be lunch time. The food would be Christmas Cake for sure and all leftovers from the day earlier that is Christmas day. Additionally some would add some freshly cooked items like for sure my middle aunt will bring her favourite Payesh (Kheer), my youngest aunt would bring her favourite Biriyani and so on and so forth.
Different dishes also passed on from other extended families, some passed over Roasted Lamb while some gave a bucket full of Nolen Gur (Jaggery) Rasogulla.
There were various incidents that I still remember from my childhood, once my grandfather fell victim to a stray cricket ball and was left with a bleeding forehead. And then there was this occasion when my father once booked a horse drawn carriage to bring as back from the zoo to our house in Ballygunge, once the carriage entered our locality it was like a circus with all the neighbouring kids running around it.
Coming back from the zoo was the saddest part of Christmas, I would inevitably break into tears as I knew finally Christmas celebrations were over. My parents and other cousins would cheer me up by informing about the coming New Year celebrations.
During the late 80’s we extended the celebrations by arranging for Video Shows. My father would hire a colour television along with a Video Cassette Player and some five to six movies. Since most of us would be extremely tiered after Christmas and Boxing Day zoo trip we would sleep most of the time and would only remember bits and pieces of any movie that would be played.
Years passed by and slowly the number of families who came to the zoo started decreasing. Some moved to a different city whereas some got busy in their corporate life and could not continue on with the tradition.
This year I made it a point that I would definitely visit the zoo along with my daughter as I wanted her to have the same feeling as I did. Unfortunately the designated place was not available so for a tradition sake I took my family to the exact spot and have them photographed.
So next year on Boxing Day you know where to find me, so please do drop by and have a piece of Christmas Cake.