After Santa made an exclusive, VIP appearance, the festivities got started on the evening of December 24th. Child Haven’s tradition is to decorate the towering “evergreen” tree and place candles underneath it at midnight.

This year we did it a little earlier.

Prakesh handing out candles

Waiting with our candles

Kids excited (and cold)!

Placing candles

Burning dreams of Christmas

Kavita telling a story in Marathi

Then little Santa dropped by to delight the children.

Bhimrao all decked out

Distributing sweets

Christmas Day began with dancing. I tell you, Indians know how to set up a killer sound system with floor speakers and an audio mixer.

Showing their moves

Dancing with verve seems to be a cultural stamp. Enthusiasm is not the only piece, but a penchant for storytelling, a flavor for drama that is missing from dancing back home. Unless you count hip hop, I suppose.

As the day progressed, I captured more shots.

Bhimrao with puppy, Chapati

Samonay and Kajal by tree

The kids pulled at the camera begging, “Auntie, me photo? Me?”

Garishma and Supriya

The girls love to dress up on a holiday!

A bunch of us dressed to bring in the yuletide

The joyous chorus of “Happy Christmas” turned into familial purgatory for some children. A queer sense of duality struck as I watched a few children standing normally in the yard suddenly burst into silent, inconsolable tears.

Lalita – pensive and sad

I feared asking Kavita why, but my intuition knew they were gripped by loss. Most of the children have at least one living parent. The crying children were dejected that their one parent did not bother to visit on a day marketed towards family unity.

Kaja went from laughing to this

Ambica’s mother did visit, but only came to borrow a dancing outfit for another girl. Her presence clocked in at 10 minutes max. I observed poor Ambica circling the fence, seemingly attracted to its magnetic pull. The main attraction being her mother and brother waiting for an auto-rickshaw. Any attention she sought came in trickles, if any.

Ambica. Her mother is in green & that’s her brother at the fence

Please excuse the photos, my intention is not to invoke sensationalism, but the tears threw me off kilter. What I saw in their disappointed faces, I saw in myself. Christmas stopped being enjoyable for me at about age 11. My father was off gallivanting with another woman and my mother’s will to maintain stability crumbled. It reached a point when we stopped purchasing or decorating a tree.

I lived through my trials, and know these kids will, so I did my college best to crack smiles. Not to mention more dancing. An American hip-hop song circulated on a loop and I gyrated like a go-go monkey to giggles and heckling. Kavita also stepped into her dancing sari.

Hoofing with the girls

I also had a special surprise for the kids.

Making noodles!

I was delighted to find Asian style noodles in the nearby town, Pen. While I slaved in the kitchen, we could hear the children jockeying to grab their plates, the metal clanging against each other with excitement when word got out that Auntie Jeannie was making something tasty.

Chopping onions and garlic

My dutiful helpers, Prakesh and Kavita

Finished product: cilantro, carrots, tomatoes, masala, the works!

Come serving time, Jeannie does her duty.

Lining up to get Christmas grub

Dishing out my hard work


Final tally of vittles

Geting ready to dig in

We ended the evening with prayer and thanks for the bountiful food and company. All in all, a stellar Christmas.

You know what this says

Tell me, how did you spend yours?