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'Christmas Is A Celebration Of Pure Life'

December 25, 2023 08:52 IST
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IMAGE: Duncan Taitea, all of 21 months, waits to dig into the fish.

For Jemimah Marak, Christmas is not just the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. "It's a celebration of joy and pure life," she says.

"If we can't celebrate life itself, it is not a festival anymore, but one's ignorance of what's happening around us.

"I came across a post which said, 'Christmas is cancelled in Bethlehem'. The situation being what it is, defeats the whole purpose of Christmas. The festival just becomes a senseless, commercial activity and it goes against my conscience to even think of a celebration.

"Hence, this particular year, I felt like I didn't need to get into the festivities. I am doing this for myself."

Jemimah lives in Meghalaya, a neighbouring state of Manipur, and so many of her friends and colleagues have lost loved ones. "Even if we celebrate, the celebrations should be meaningful," she feels.

Christmas has always been about family for the Maraks. "When we were out studying or working, we'd come back home to mum and dad and we enjoyed time together, even if it meant sharing a simple meal."

Back home, they had a family tradition of dining on Baked Fish, "where we would buy the biggest fish (as kids we weren't comfortable with the bones so we could go for the fattier, less bony fish) we could find. Mum would bake it and at midnight, we'd put it out on a big baking dish, and everyone would grab their forks and spoons, sit around it and dig into it, as we spoke about the year and things we were grateful for."

After her dad passed away, they stopped the tradition because it didn't feel the same.

"If we couldn't find fish, it would be chicken. If we couldn't find chicken, because everyone was buying it and even the sellers ran out of chicken, we would settle for a pork head or a whole eel. You don't bake a pig head, so Mum boiled it and seasoned it. There were no vegetables, but just meat on the table.

"In the community, there are feasts and little get-togethers everywhere across Meghalaya. Their feasts would include a proper meal with rice and other accompaniments. But in my family, the tradition was to just have a single baked or cooked dish. Anyway, who eats rice at 12 o'clock at night?"

A typical Christmas celebration in her state would include a church service at midnight. "Carol singing has died down now. Everybody comes to the church, and we go to the locality where the church is, pray and disperse. We do have winter snacks made with sticky rice. Some are deep-fried and some are steamed."

IMAGE: Jemimah's mother, sister-in-law and nephew.

Jemimah now lives with her dogs on a farm in Meghalaya and this year for her "It won't be Christmas at home, but Christmas at the farm with villagers."

She says, "It's fun. It is a Hindu village, but we are not divided on any political or religious lines. We celebrate every festival together, if not with a meal, there will be a cake and juice or tea."

A festive tradition that Jemimah would like to revive would be of Christmas cards. "The celebrations would start with us buying or making the Christmas cards, and I was the chief decorator. Our Xmas tree would have a lot of handmade stuff and we'd string up the cards across the walls. I really miss doing that. A heart-felt message handwritten in the cards is something that brings great joy to me."

For Christmas presents, Jemimah would knit caps and give them out. "Wearing my dad's handknitted cap is what I'll do this year."

IMAGE: "The recipe of Baked Fish tastes amazing as the oil from it would come out during the baking. The simpler the ingredients, the better the fish tastes," says Jemimah.

Baked Fish

Serves: 3-4


  • 1 large fish, (Jemimah prefers rupchanda or pankaj, but any meaty variety of fish can be used), washed, cleaned, patted dried, and the fish scored with a knife, cutting a few slits, 1 inch apart, just through the skin
  • 1 neebu or lemon + slices for serving
  • Small bunch fresh green dhania or coriander or cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly crushed black pepper to taste
  • Herbs, optional
  • Butter or oil, optional


  • Preheat an oven to about 180 °C.
  • Marinate the whole fish with a squeeze of lemon, the chopped coriander leaves, salt, pepper.
    If using herbs or butter/oil, the exterior of the fish should be brushed with the butter/oil, and the herbs can be stuffed into the cavity or else the herbs may get burnt.   
    Place the fish on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for an hour or 2, depending on the size of the fish. 
    Take out of the oven and serve immediately.
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