Back in the day, in Goa, Christmas was a time for the family to get together and celebrate. And the old and young would all join in the celebrations. Preparations for Xmas would start well in advance. Youngsters, specially the boys from the village, would create new and innovative themes for their cribs each year. They would also make decorative items for the Xmas tree, the star and the crib, while the ladies of the house prepared an assortment of edible goodies.
HISTORY & ORIGINS
Since the focal point of the preparations was the crib, every effort was put into making it the best. Making the crib could take a day or even days, depending on the theme selected.
But, why a crib? As we all know, Jesus Christ was born in a manger and the scene of the crib replicates this event. Was it always a part of the celebrations? Studies tells us that, in the fourth century, the mystery of the Nativity was represented without the crib. The image of the Infant Jesus was kept on the floor. However, at this point was introduced the use of representation of the ox and the donkey, along with the shepherds. The representation of animals is an element that came from Apocryphal Gospel, which applied to Jesus certain texts of the Old Testament (Is I:3; Hab III:2, according to the version of the Seventies).
These representations of the crib started multiplying from the seventh century, but became popular with the intervention of St Francis of Assisi. In 1223, this saint celebrated the night of Christmas in a forest, with a solemn mass, in front of a big crib arranged among the trees. The first representation of figurines of the birth of Jesus is attributed to the saint. He made a special oratory, for which he requested special permission from the Catholic Church.
Since then, crib-making began to gain fame and it became the focal point of Christmas celebrations throughout the world. Whether rich or poor, all Catholics had cribs. There was no set standard for making these cribs. Cribs would vary according to the ideas, or artistic inclinations, of those making them or the traditions of the people.
CRIB-MAKING IN GOA
In Goa, we have our own unique way of making cribs using easily-available material from the locality. Many cribs were traditionally adorned with verdant landscapes, and this was usually done by germinating seedlings of nachni (millet), a couple of weeks before Xmas day, so that by December 24, these would grow to the desired height. The crib could be set directly on the floor or on an elevated wooden plank, fixed indoors or outdoors in one's garden.
There were cribs made of sand and clay, and stones were used to recreate mountains. Sometimes, clay chunks obtained after tilling fields, were used. These are called dicvam in Konkani, and are also used to depict mountains.
A little green coloured sand would be used to depict vegetation, while small artificial trees, usually palm or coconut trees, would be added occasionally. Some people used weeds. Decorative items were added to reflect the ancient times and the Christmas theme. Mountains would be created using thick brown paper.
You will be surprised to see that many items that are generally discarded, are recycled and used to give beautiful effects to cribs in Goa. Cardboard, boxes, grass and other material used for packaging, were some of the items of choice. Grass (corod), from hillocks or arid areas, was a popular item for cribs. Mountains, sand dunes, a small well, shepherds and animals also formed part of the crib.
Cotton was used to depict snow. Palm leaves covered the crib. Local youngsters began preparations for the crib weeks in advance. Clay statues of the Infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the three kings and some animals grazing in the open, were set in this crib scene. Some elements would also be made of plastic or wood. These were usually readymade and remained as family heirlooms for years.
Of all the Christmas decorations, the star is an important element as it depicts Jesus. And, so we find that every Goan Catholic home is decorated with stars.