The festive pulse of the people | Sunday Observer

The festive pulse of the people

The annual festive frenzy is once again engulfing Pettah, with remarkable sales and bargains. The Pettah area has been the arena where you can locate almost anything: if you patiently look for it. The word Pettah is derived from the Anglo-Indian word Pettai which denotes a suburb outside a fort. To find this year’s shopping delights I set out with a colleague on Friday. The sun was quite intense. We started off at the top of Main Street, a road that has many trading establishments. At a makeshift steel tent we come across a dazzling display of Christmas trees, in shades of green and immaculate white.

The salesmen are busy showing people around. I spoke to Azmin a senior vendor who has been here for years. Today he is assisted by young Mushab, a resident of Maradana. Azmin points at the trees. ‘We have trees from 3 feet to 6 feet, and prices range from Rs. 2,000 onwards.’ Next to him is another display exploding with colour that includes every kind of dainty decoration. There a golden celestial angels, tiny silver bells, reindeer frosted with snowflakes and miniature Santa Claus. Wreaths of holly with red ribbons cover one side of the wooden display. Young Mushab adds, “We start in the morning and close at around 8 pm. I think people prefer to come when the sun goes down”. Indeed a prudent shopping choice.

The trees are further enhanced with LED lights that are sold in packs of Rs. 200. But all is not radiant for these folks, as they have no proper facilities to sit and have lunch or use of a decent restroom.

One vendor warns us to be safe from pick pockets, who are also busy on these crowded streets. There are two policemen going on mobile patrol. This is quite a contrast from shopping at Wal-Mart in the west. Towards the middle of Main Street is another large collection of trees, next to Titus stores. The demand for natural trees is also on the decrease. Streamers which are an ‘outdated’ trend overseas are still in vogue here and sell at Rs. 150. It was interesting to note that many of these vendors were Muslims and Hindus, which beautifully reflects the cultural diversity we enjoy.

One particular item was missing in Pettah this year - the nativity crib. We looked around and could not spot any. I guess in this digital domain the ‘scene’ of the blessed Christ child has faded away. I did spot one such vendor outside St. Mary’s Church, Dehiwela.

This year there seems to be a visible reduction in firecrackers, which is good. However we are bound to hear a volley of crackers on New Year’s Eve in every neighbourhood. The ‘science’ behind decorating for Christmas has changed. Many in Colombo live in apartments and don’t fancy having too many items, besides people work through the season and don’t have time to remove decorations in the first week of January. Also, people are embracing the ‘retro chic’ appeal in décor which does not have too many gaudy items.

Sweet Indulgence

The joy of Christmas to many is not complete without a succulent piece of cake: Christmas cake (rich cake), date cake and love cake. Housewives will be busy making and baking their festive cakes.

We continued our journey into Bankshall Street, Pettah to some famous shops that sell imported cake ingredients. The shops were not busy as we expected them to be, yet some women were reading out their list to the salesmen. Saman, a trader from Jaffna has taken the operations of such a store. He says, ‘The cashew nuts are costly this year, a kilo is Rs 3,000 and almonds are Rs. 2,400 a kilo. We get the almonds from California and Dubai’. The shop is full of preserved fruits in syrup and an array of essence.

Latheefia stores, which has been trading for decades was closed as the staff had gone for their prayers on Friday afternoon. The cost of ingredients was a topic for discussion for the ladies. A woman opines, ‘No matter what the price, we have to bake our traditional cake’.

Again, eating trends are changing in Colombo, as it is easier for people to buy their Christmas goodies, as the cost of electricity involved in baking is another concern. There are also ‘alternate’ cake options. The art of making Breuder is almost vanishing. However the people will enjoy their sweet sensations, either way.