Christmas is more than elaborate meals, store-bought plum cakes, and exchange of expensive gifts or formal parties. The true spirit of Christmas lies in giving and sharing and this is exactly how it is celebrated at the Bow Barracks even today. In an era where change is constant, the spirit of Christmas remains truly unchanged within the old red brick walls of Bow Barracks.
During Christmas and New Year, every renowned, lesser known, average and below average clubs and restaurants pack in huge number of people eager to celebrate the day while an equally huge number of people wait outside these places for their turn to get in; the ambiance of which would remind you only about modern day Uncle Scrooge and his Christmas killing spirit but, at Bow Barracks, there are no queues and no one tells you to wait outside. Everyone is invited to their Christmas celebrations and treated equally and humbly. The inhabitants of this quaint old neighbourhood would even offer you home-made cake and wine, just so to make you feel a part of their festivities. As Mr Felix, the man behind the festivities at Bow Barracks share, these warm-hearted gestures are an integral part of their culture, “You won’t get warmth like this anywhere else. The people over here believe in sharing and are very welcoming. We know how to welcome guests and entertain them and have a good time. The community bonding that we Anglo-Indians share is the spirit of togetherness. And the credit goes to the teachings and morals of our parents and the missionary schools that we all have attended. We owe it to the missionaries for teaching us the virtues of obedience and patience.”
There is nothing like good food to spread the warmth to your heart and hence food forms an integral part of the celebrations at Bow Barracks during Christmas with lots of cakes and wines; exactly the way the rest of Kolkata celebrates Christmas, the only difference being that the cakes and wine in Bow Barrack are all homemade. Mrs Anna Chow, a resident of the area offered us slices of the walnut cake she had baked and her special grape wine to taste. She even shared the recipe with us as well, “We love having cakes and baking cakes as well. I love baking different types of cakes with different toppings and ingredients like walnut cakes, fruit cakes, and plain ones. We generally buy all the ingredients and the preserves for the cakes by December 1. Then we cut these preserves and let them dry in the sun. Later we make the batter for our cake and take it to the bakers at Colootola. For the wine, we start our preparations as early as March and by the end of October the wine gets prepared. After that we store it in large drums before giving away as gifts to our friends and family during Christmas and New Year.” Participating in masses, singing carols are integral part of the celebrations, sticking to tradition and age-old conventions even though the red walls with green windows may have faded over time.
The Anglo-Indian community of Bow Barracks does not limit its sharing spirit to only family members, friends and neighbours. They come together to spread joy and happiness among senior citizens and underprivileged children, “On Christmas Eve, we provide gifts and food packets to 600 underprivileged children and on December 27 we organise a senior citizen night where there’s a music and dance show for them and we provide them with a gift packet as well. Sharing and caring, that is what Christmas is all about,” Mr Felix said resonating the thoughts of his neighbours in Bow Barracks.
It is heartening to note that beyond all the commercial hype there’s a place right at the heart of the city where people share the joy of giving and sharing. It is a place where an entire community comes together to bring smiles on the faces of hundreds of children and senior citizens and vibrates with collective and mutual bonding among its members.