Christmas in Nepal

December 25, 2009: Boudha, Nepal

All week I’ve been listening to holiday music. It fascinates me how music can transport the mind to a different time, and as I listen to these old familiar songs, I smile to recall the years and all of the moments when these songs were my festive soundtrack. There is one album in particular– a beautiful collection of holiday songs played brilliantly on classical guitar by Steven Pasero. Every time I hear Ave Maria or O Holy Night, I find myself sifting through the photographs in my mind of all the people that I miss, and the hot chocolate moments that we’ve shared. I see them all gathered in candlelight around a beautiful Christmas tree and sometimes little tears form up when I get thinking about spending Christmas without them. 

Here in Hindu/Buddhist Nepal, I only get little doses of Christmas. Up at the Hyatt hotel here in town, they have a great big Christmas tree all lit up in the lobby. The lobby is beautiful, well-lit, and warm, and best of all-  a couple of excellent Nepali musicians play there every night.  I learned this a few days ago and have since been going up there every night. I sit at their side and close my eyes and take in their beautiful music. The tablas, the flutes, the singing bowls, the fiddle-like sarangi melodies– their sweet sounds flow through me as I’m transported into a blissful musical meditation. And when I open my eyes, the sight of the Christmas tree makes me happy.

I’m kind of like their student, and in between songs the musicians in this band teach me how to play their instruments. Two nights ago, Bharat Nepali, the superb sarangi player, taught me the basics of his 4-stringed instrument, which is positioned in front of you, like the cello, and is bowed similarly. When the band took a break for dinner, he encouraged me to try his instrument. 

Sitting in the light of the Christmas tree, I began fiddling with his sarangi trying to find the melody to Away in a Manger. Astonishingly, the melody rang out and I realized that the instrument was surprisingly easy to play. I was amused to imagine guests who were hearing me and thinking that I was the hired entertainment. “Jeez, this guy really sucks,” I was imagining them saying and was expecting hotel staff to silence my scratchy, poorly-played sarangi music but no one seemed to mind. And so with great happiness in my heart, I sat there in the lobby of this multi-million dollar hotel, beside the giant Christmas tree, playing every Christmas song I could think of. I smiled to myself and acknowledged with gratitude that this is my humble Christmas. A different kind of Christmas.

The stupa coincidentally is all dressed in Christmas lights right now. Ribbons of colored lights stream down from the stupa on through the various levels. At night time when the stupa becomes quiet again I go down there and sit in silence, admiring the beautiful Christmas stupa. Last night I took my new little Nepali hand drum on down there and must’ve walked around that stupa for several hours banging my drum– I was completely at peace and had nowhere to go, nothing to do. It was Christmas eve, and this was my celebration. It was just me, a couple of street dogs, and the Christmas stupa. Beautiful.

Before going to bed on Christmas eve I made a few phone calls. It felt real nice to hear the voice of those I miss so much. Especially at this time, hearing their voice was a gift. And to hear my dear little niece Paige sing “Silent Night”, that just about made my Christmas complete. I cried and smiled at the same time, not knowing what I was feeling.

On Christmas day, I had a party to go to. Two and half months ago when I arrived in Nepal, I met Susan the 65 year old Buddha like angel. When she learned I was back in town she invited me to a party at her house that she was hosting for all the Australian volunteers that work under her guidance. So Christmas morning– a day that seemed no different than any other day– I jumped on a bus headed into Kathmandu. Arriving in crazy Kathmandu, I found a bicycle to rent and rode off to Susan’s house in Patan, a village just south of Kathmandu.

The party was festive and fun– many happy smiling people laughing and sharing. Susan had prepared a delicious Christmas feast. She even had several bottles of excellent Australian red wine, and so I  got to enjoy some of my first few glasses of wine since I’ve been in Nepal. Side note: wine was a great treat for me because the beer and wine here is relatively expensive and is usually not that good, so I’ve drank very little since I’ve been here. Today, however, I was indulging and enjoying every sip. Near Susan’s house there is a Christian school named St. Xavier’s, and they were having some kind of Christmas concert. Loud upbeat Christian rock was blasting out for all the town to hear, and thought it wasn’t Joy to the World, it made me happy. This was my Christmas celebration– it was way different than usual. 

Tomorrow I head off to Lumbini, the town where Buddha was born. 

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