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Christmas carols

By Nickunj Malik - Dec 19,2018 - Last updated at Dec 19,2018

While the rest of the world is enjoying a white Christmas, with plenty of snowflakes covering their Christmas trees, my Christmas in Mauritius is occurring bang in the middle of the summer solstice. Well, almost! Technically, it is on Saturday, December 22, 2018, when the sun is predicted to rise at 05:27:52 in the morning and set at precisely 18:49:15 in the evening. The duration of the day is going to be for 13 hours 21 minutes and 23 seconds. 

Right! In other words, this Paradise Island, which is located south of the Equator, will be witnessing its longest and hottest day of the year, just three days before the birth of Christ. I know for sure that any candles or decorations that I try to arrange on the patio, to welcome the arrival of baby Jesus, will melt in the intense warmth. I also give up the idea of making any mulled wine because in any case, it would turn rancid, by the afternoon itself. 

Meanwhile, I notice that the Santa Clauses in Mauritius are quite thin because none of them can bear to put on the multi-layered, fake potbellied costumes, in the sweltering heat. However, these smiling, white bearded fellows, who traditionally give gifts to well-behaved children on Christmas day, are greatly influenced by the culture of the country they belong to. So, in India you find Santa Papa handing out laddoos (spherical shaped sweets), in Turkey, Noel Baba giving Baklava (sweet pastry filled with nuts) and in Mauritius, Pere Noel gifting ice cream cones to little kids — a custom that is perfectly attuned to their palate and weather preferences. 

Additionally, around Christmas, hoards of marigold garland wearing tourists emerge out of flights from freezing European countries, in the arrival area of our airport, which is situated in the southernmost part of Mauritius. They peel off their overcoats, sweaters, scarves and long trousers immediately and start soaking up the sun in their skimpy underclothes, even before getting into their taxis. Our golden brown tanned skin stands out in sharp contrast to their pale white one and there are many glances of envy that are directed our way.

These visitors have to get used to Sega music blasting in and around the sandy beaches, instead of the traditional Christmas carols. What is that, you ask? Sega is one of the major music genres of Mauritius and has its origin in the songs of the African slaves as well as their descendants on the island, and is usually sung in Creole. The essence of Sega comes from the combination of several core instruments, most notably the triangle, the maravane — a flat wooden rattle filled with small pebbles or dried nuts — and the ravane — a circular wooden drum frame covered with a taut piece of goat hide, often heated over a flame to tighten the membrane for a livelier sound.

Mauritians dance effortlessly to its magical rhythm but all foreigners need to make a gigantic effort to get the steps correctly.

“Should we go for midnight mass on Christmas eve?” I ask my husband.

“The church is near the ocean,” I inform him.

 “There might also be Sega music on the beach,” I continue.

“Will I have to dance?” my spouse is horrified.

“You can sing. It’s nice to participate,” I encourage.

“Silent night, holy night,” he sings tunelessly.

“You know what?” I interrupt hurriedly.

“I think you should just clap to the beat,” I tell him.

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