Carols, Curry and Old Men!

Posted by Helen 
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As this was our first Christmas and New Year spent in Goa, we thought we would blog something different for a change and share with you our thoughts on the similarities and differences we noticed in the way the festivities are celebrated in Goa and England.

Santa in Goa

Christmas started early and unexpectedly for us a week or so before Christmas Day. Yes, the whole State is decorated to the nines in stars, Xmas trees and Santas, but what we were unexpectedly confronted with that evening was a full blown crowd of kids and a Santa boisterously singing carols and handing out sweets, running between all the local homes spreading good cheer. Thousands of cribs appeared in front of houses, both simple and ornate, and the government award prizes for the best. Christmas is taken seriously here… with great fun and devoutness at the same time.

Goan nativity scene

Communities get together to design little tableaus and celebrate together, culminating with a full midnight mass in a beautifully decorated church on Christmas Eve, with all the children present – kids don’t wake in the small hours raiding the present pile here!

Joe in snowy Goa!

Christmas day itself involves visiting friends and family to ‘wish’ and receiving other friends and family at home. Other faiths join in the wishing, and presents and ‘sweets’ – lots of seasonal savoury and sweet biscuits etc are still made at home – are exchanged everywhere. Family gifts are usually ‘useful’ rather than frivolous, imaginative or luxurious as in the west and, obviously, presents are not stacked under the Christmas tree here!

Presents while going to wish

As you might well imagine, the feast meal is usually the more complicated Indo-Portuguese dishes that may take days to prepare such as vindahlo (not fiercely ‘spiced’ as you find it in the UK as vindaloo, but with meat marinated in soured wine and complexly flavoured!) and sorpitel, with sanaas – light and fluffy sweetened and pressed steamed rice cakes that are difficult to make and highly appreciated with such dishes! Our friends at Casa Susegad laid on a fabulous fusion of Western and Goan cuisine… international friendship and diplomacy lasted well into the morning!!!

New Year is a time for parties with another midnight mass thrown in for good measure. Running through is the concept and ritual of throwing out the old and welcoming the new. So the last day of the new year brings (to us!) a strange dislocation of ritual… kids build and stuff ‘Old Men’ from sticks and hay and dad’s old clothes (just as I and my friends made ‘Guys’ for 5th November as children) ranging from the simple to the very ornate and artistic. They then stand them by the side of roads and lanes (often dressed with a cap, bottle of feni and a fat cigar!) and if you drive anywhere on this day you are besieged at every bend and junction by kids collecting 10 rupee notes (equivalent to 10p in the UK) to buy fire crackers and things for later that night.

10 rupees for the Old Man!

During the day people of all faiths visit each other to offer seasonal savouries – we were lucky to be brought an outstanding vegetable curry portion by our Hindu neighbours! Later on come the evening barbecues (why do all guys leap to be world class chefs whenever a barbecue appears when they are never seen in the kitchen the rest of the year?) and new year parties, both private and public.

Goan New Year's Eve Barbecue
Papa Joe's New Year Party

But every event culminates at midnight with the ritual of burning the Old Man. No bonfires, but plenty of fireworks, dancing and merry-making… let the new year bring better times!

Burning the Old Man (and Woman)

The whole festive week just confirmed to us that everything in Goa is done enthusiastically from the heart!

Happy New Year!!!


3 Responses to “Carols, Curry and Old Men!”

  1. Diana Boulter says, January 30th, 2014 at 13:11

    Hi Helen and Colin, I really enjoyed reading your write-up about Christmas in Goa. Sounds great fun! Can we all come out next year? Oh – and tell everyone you know that our “Dinner for Wonderful Women” is raising money for Helping Elsewhere. It’s for ladies only – sorry, boys! – on 08 April 2014 at the Hilton Hotel, Cobham, Surrey. Tickets from me or via Helen, of course. Love from Diana x

  2. Diana Boulter says, January 30th, 2014 at 13:12

    I forgot to say – our target at the WW Dinner is to raise £1500 for girls’ education. D x

  3. Helen says, January 30th, 2014 at 13:35

    Thanks Diana – I’m going to flag your efforts in our next ‘issue’ but anybody that sees this… pass this on!


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