Tis’ the season to be jolly, but earlier this month when the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota welcomed its first-ever black Santa Claus, the public reaction was a bit wonky.
By all accounts the kids and parents who came to the mall loved African-American Santa. One woman said that she had waited 25 years to see a Santa of colour. The mall — which first opened its doors 24 years ago — attracted people who drove in from neighbouring counties and cities so that their children could meet this diverse Santa aka Father Christmas aka St Nick.
However, the online reaction to MOA’s initiative was strikingly different. Keyboard warriors were outraged, insisting that Santa aka Father Christmas aka St Nicholas was Germanic and therefore ‘inherently white’.
In fact the real Saint Nicholas, as depicted in early Christian iconography, was a gaunt man with a dusky complexion. And he was born to Greek parents in the town of Myra in Greater Anatolia (present-day Turkey).
The chubby white man in a red and white costume of whom the commentators were thinking was invented by the Coca Cola Company. Thanks to a holiday ad campaign during the 1930s, this rosy-cheeked Santa who appeared in magazines, billboards, calendars, and store displays, embedded himself in the hearts and minds of America.
What if Santa were a Pakistani, I wondered? What would he look like? What would he wear as he traversed the globe all night, delivering presents to children who had made the ‘Nice’ list? But most important of all, what would he eat?
Coca Cola’s version of Santa paused only to enjoy a bottle of Coke. How happy would a Pakistani be if that was their only sustenance all through a cold December night? I tried to imagine what snacks a desi Santa would enjoy.
What would a desi Santa’s Christmas menu look like?
Santa would hope to find at the various houses that he dropped in, and the answers were fairly obvious.
Well, duh. That goes without even saying. Chai is a must.
Whether it’s a quick daadhi piyali or a leisurely full mug, hot tea is mandatory when the cold temperatures take over. Moreover, the shot of warmth and caffeine it affords are needed to stay up working all night.
Nothing satisfies like a good, strong dose of well-brewed, well-presented chai. It sounds so simple yet is hard to achieve. Only the best will do for Santa though.
Looking to switch things around a bit, Santa? Try doodh patti chai at one house, green tea at another, and Kashmiri chai at yet another.
This frothy hot beverage, so lovingly made by simmering milk seasoned lightly with salt on a low flame, deserves to be richly garnished with crushed almonds and pistachios. Santa may or may not want to add some sugar to his cup of creamy pink chai (the authentic version has no sweetening), but he will definitely want to take off his boots and give his team of reindeer a breather while he enjoys this treat.
Gaajar ka halwa
What’s a desi winter without gaajar ka halwa? No amount of cookies of any variety can compete with the concoction of shredded raw carrots lovingly cooked in milk, fortified with ghee and khoya, scented with cardamom, and embellished with a generous amount of slivered almonds.
It’s exactly what Santa deserves — nay, what he needs — for running a tight ship at the North Pole and then crisscrossing the globe all alone on an open sleigh.
Good man Santa — a bowl or two of halwa for him and a to-go pack for the diligent elves.
Roasted peanuts, pine nuts (chilghozay), and basically everything the rhehree wallah has in his rich display of nuts and dry fruits. Just what Santa craves when he’s feeling a bit peckish, or looking for something to munch on to break the monotony of flying through the starry night sky. A little bit of everything from gajak to chhoaray to salted cashew nuts to keep the big guy alert and happy.
Yes, that’s right, paaye. A man cannot be expected to work all night on halwa, chai, and nuts alone. Something more substantial is called for.
So in the early hours of the morning, before heading back home to Mrs Claus, Santa will sit down to a heart-warming (and artery-choking) serving of trotters that have been slow-cooked in a spicy broth. Keep the nan or kulchas coming for he has worked up a hearty appetite.
Christmas comes only once a year after all, so what better reason to dig in and be merry.
Wishing everyone in Pakistan and around the world Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Ho, Ho, Ho ...
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 25th, 2016