For An Indian Family in Texas, Christmas Makes The Whole Year
The Krishnas come to play, y'all.
December 20, 2017 ● 3 min read
By Priya Krishna
My family’s holiday season revolves around our steadfast Christmas culinary traditions: elegantly decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread houses, chocolate chip pancakes, and an enormous Christmas dinner.
We really, really love Christmas. Just not for the typical reasons.
The obsession started when my parents moved to America, had kids, and soon realized they needed something to occupy the full week of freedom granted to my sister and me around the end of the month. We lived in Texas, where stores and institutions have no qualms about asserting Christmas as the ultimate end-of-year holiday. Was my school predominantly Jewish? Yes. Did the holiday schedule still revolve around Christmas? You bet. It was only a matter of time until we got caught up in all those good tidings.
I first remember my parents hauling a Evergreen tree into our living room when I was about five. (To this day, we’re still the only family I know that buys a real tree every year. It’s that crisp, piney smell!) They explained the usual spiel about the North Pole, be sure to leave out milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Like most kids, we accepted this without question and took this new Christmas thing very seriously. Early lists were fed through the fax machine by my dad, who would press random buttons and diligently send my requests for Sailor Moon action figures, a Simba onesie, and Polly Pockets into the ether.
The high-drama and spectacle of a Krishna Christmas takes a village: our elderly neighbors, Helen Mary and Gerald, were in charge of wrapping and labeling our presents each year. Gerald smoked a pipe, and Helen Mary constantly baked sugar cookies dotted with colorful gumdrops. As a result, when our presents appeared under the tree on the big day, they’d smell deeply of sugar and pipe smoke…which is exactly what you’d imagine Santa’s workshop would smell like, no? The scent alone was proof that Santa was real.
As the years went by, my sister and I — and by extension, my parents — only became more invested in the holiday. Most Christmas Eves, I’d be so wound up I couldn’t sleep, bolting out of bed at the slightest suggestion of sunrise. A quick check on the bright wrappings spilling out from under the tree, then to the chimney to inspect the evidence. Milk? Half drunk. Cookies and carrots? Bite-sized nibbles. Bingo!
After the last gift had been torn open, my mom would bust out a ceremonial box of Bisquick and make her famous pancakes: laced with wheat germ, two-percent milk, chocolate chips, and absolutely no eggs. (Indians have a thing against eggs in their baked goods—they’re not considered vegetarian). Paired with pure maple syrup, they are always the best, fluffiest pancakes around.
We’d then march upstairs, change into layers of mismatched, newly-acquired swag, and go over to an uncle’s house for brunch. My cousins and I would compare gift conquests over puri, mounds of tomato-flecked chole, and my mom’s signature squash and onion sabzi. Eventually, I’d develop the pit in my stomach that I always get on Christmas Day — realizing that I’d have to wait another 364 days to do this all again; that my favorite part of the year was over.
We repeated the same tradition for over 20 years, even after we caught our parents placing gifts under the tree at 2 a.m. one Christmas Eve. Then, my sister got married, and now she spends Christmas in New York with her husband’s family (who is, in fact, Christian). Eventually, I started to do the same with my boyfriend’s family. They have their own wonderful Christmas traditions; they watch Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas on Christmas Eve, quoting every single line along the way. They go to mass to hear a family friend give the Christmas sermon. On Christmas morning, they make orange blossom French toast after unwrapping gifts. I love it all.
Even still, a small part of me deeply misses the gumdrop-scented presents. The eggless pancakes, the chorus of prepubescent kids singing “Frosty the Snowman” on our Christmas CDs. I miss my family’s deeply inauthentic and yet terribly authentic Christmas celebration—Bisquick and all.
Priya Krishna's forthcoming cookbook INDIAN-ISH is devoted to her mom’s utterly unique, wildly delicious recipes—rooted in Indian cooking, but with influences from all over the world. And yes, those hallowed Christmas morning pancakes are in it! Look for it in 2019.