Why My Sikh Family Loves Celebrating Christmas

One reason I like Christmas is that when everyone else is gathering around a turkey, glass of wine in hand, so are we.

Christmas turkey dinnerIllustration: Robert Carter

A Sikh Christmas

The cliché about living as part of two cultures is that you find a space between them. But sometimes you do the opposite: just lean into one side or the other as circumstance fits.

Perhaps that’s why, after moving to London, U.K., from India, my parents decided to celebrate Christmas. “We thought it would be a way to be part of English culture,” says my dad, “and then it just stuck when we moved to Canada.”

Last year, it was our turn to host my parents’ friends and their families for dinner on Christmas Day. On most visits to my parents’ home, when I head downstairs in the morning, my mom is listening to shabad, Sikh religious music. But on Christmas morning, the house is filled with a rather English mix of choral music or carols, making our Indian kitchen sound more like the inside of a church.

“Oh, are they talking about Jesus again?” inquires my father when he arrives downstairs. As an agnostic, he isn’t loyal to any particular religion. Nor am I, but something about the history and tradition of listening to carols while prepping Christmas dinner feels right.

At around six, our guests arrive. Sparkling wine, claret and whisky are generously poured into glasses. The house grows warm and cheeks turn flushed. Though we are all either from India or of Indian descent—and thus you might expect a tandoori turkey—my brother and I have decided Christmas is not a time for fusion.

“Should we add some chilies to the stuffing?” asks Dad. “Of course!” replies Mum, who can barely bring herself to eat something if it isn’t blisteringly hot. But my brother and I always veto them. When you’re an immigrant, it can be alienating that what happens inside your home rarely matches depictions on TV or in magazines. One reason I like Christmas is that when everyone else is gathering around a turkey, glass of wine in hand, so are we.

The morning after, when I awake with a fuzzy head, my mom is listening to her usual shabads. And I know what we’ll be eating for dinner: turkey curry.

Next, read up on these uniquely Canadian holiday traditions.

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada