Salman Rushdie on Dec. 25: “Children change things. They are all Christmas fundamentalists.”


Rockefeller Center Christmas tree (Creative Commons)

In this month’s issue of British Voguethe renowned author Salman Rushdie explains the complicated history of his relationship with Christmas.

While growing up in Bombay, Christmas wasn’t a thing. “Not only were we not Christians, we weren’t a religious household, so December 25 was just that: the 25th of December.” However, he went to a local “Cathedral School,” and that meant hymns year round and carols in December, and all the students had to sing along, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Parsi. “This pretty much atheistic boy of Indian Muslim heritage sang along with everyone else, recommending the adoration of a Middle Eastern boy who had been born the king of angels,” he recalled.

“And because we were, after all, schoolboys, we learned the comic version of ‘Hark!’ also.”

“Hark! the herald angels sing
Beecham’s Pills are just the thing.
If you want to go to heaven
Take a dose of six or seven.
If you want to go to hell,
Take the whole damn box as well.”

Years later, in London, he would get together with fellow “Christmas refuseniks” and go out for an Indian meal on the holiday – often at the Gaylord restaurant on Mortimer Street. “No presents, no stuffing, lots of irreverent fun and tandoori chicken.”

“Then came marriage and children.”

Children change Christmas. My sons Zafar and Milan wanted — still want — a proper Christmas. So do my nieces, my sister Sameen’s daughters Maya and Mishka. So does my daughter-in-law, Zafar’s soprano wife Natalie. They are all Christmas fundamentalists. Sameen and I have given in to their demands, and so for many years now there have been tall trees decked with ornaments, and holly, mistletoe, turkey, stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, brandy snaps, crackers, the whole nine yards, even the brussels sprouts. There is the Queen on TV. There is an annual ocean of wrapping paper. There are stockings. There are Christmas jumpers. My sister and I look at each other from opposite ends of the groaning dining table and ask, silently, how did this happen to us? We allow ourselves only two small rebellions. One: we don’t like Christmas pudding and won’t eat the stuff. And two: I don’t give her a Christmas present and she doesn’t give me one. That is our small acknowledgement of the people we used to be.

Of course, we have a grand time.

The whole story is online here. And here is why you absolutely must click on the link: you will see a charming family photo of the author himself as a boy, reading Peter Pan do his dreamily rapt sisters. You will see a modern-day Rushdie, stuffing himself with brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce at a table decorated with candles and ivy and pine cones. He is wearing a sweater with snowflakes and reindeer on it. Doesn’t get better than that. (And no, I won’t reprint it here. The copyright cops will be down on me faster than a duck on a June bug.) As Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, every one!'”

Salman Rushdie and Timothy Garton Ash in NYC, 2014. (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)



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