When you live in a country where Christmas is not the biggest holiday of the year (or even the fourth-biggest), it’s easy to forget about it. Nepal already had Dashain and Tihar, indisputably the country’s biggest holidays. Christmas is still celebrated, but the hype and attention pales in comparison to what I’ve already seen.
Shops still sell Christmas decorations and public spaces are still decorated. Students walk through the streets in Santa hats. At the school, I merged my class with another teacher’s and we taught them Christmas carols and exchanged presents. But once I left the designated Christmas zones, I almost forgot it was even happening.
Christmas Eve: Dive Bars and Wine Bistros
In the morning I had my Christmas carol class. We sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night.” The other teacher distributed bells and shakers to the students for some percussive accompaniment. I, as the lone American at the school that day, taught the class about American Christmas traditions and famous Christmas stories. We talked about Jesus, angels, Santa Claus, and the Christmas ceasefire of WWI.
That night, my roommate invited me and our other roommate to a dinner he had been invited to. We piled into a taxi and sat in traffic for a solid hour on the way to Lazimpat, thinking we were going to be too late to get in. When we arrived, the restaurant was not only empty but we were told were the first to arrive. So, we left.
We went across the street to get a beer while we waited for more people to arrive. The place we chose was a dimly-lit billiards hall at the top of several stories of exposed concrete steps. Behind the bar was a small guy with a slightly sleazy aura.
“Ah, Ruslan vodka?”
“No, a Gorkha. A beer.”
It took a few tries to keep him from pushing a nice mug of vodka across the bar, but we eventually got our drinks. He watched us play pool for a weirdly long time, but eventually joined another game. I laughed about the fact that, on Christmas Eve, we were in some shitty dive with Bollywood soundtracks set to high volume.
“That’s Christmas in Kathmandu, man.”
After close to 40 minutes, we decided it was best to head back to the restaurant. This time, it was completely full. It must have been some event for the French community, because myself and my Greek roommate were the only ones in the whole place from non-Francophone countries. Dinner was very French. Our waitress brought a weird machine to the table for us to roast slices of meat and cheese with potatoes. Our new French companions thought it was hilarious that I had never seen one before.
“But you at least know fondue, oui?”
When dinner was finished, we left to go back to our apartments in Patan. In the US, I never went out partying on Christmas Eve, and tonight was no exception.
Christmas Day: Nepali Aquaman and Tandoori Chicken
On Christmas day, some of my former students invited me out to a movie. They had chosen Aquaman. The movie itself was fine, though the 30 minutes of Bollywood ads before the movie and during the intermission (apparently movies have intermissions here) was an experience.
After the movie, we had to wade through a huge crowd in the main area of the mall. It was just a huge dance mob, and my friends refused to leave until I danced with them. Of all the places I’ve gone here, this was actually the first time that I was definitely the only foreigner, and was definitely out of place. At 6 feet tall, I tend to look down on your average Nepali, and this was no exception. Standing in the crowd, I could see across the sea of faces, many of them staring back at me. My friends took all the pictures they could of the token white guy, and then they were apparently satisfied. We stayed in the dance mob for no more than five minutes before they said, “OK, we go now.”
Then my scooter died on the parking ramp while I was trying to pay.
When I finally managed to get home, my roommate and I left to get some drinks. From a rooftop in Patan, we could see most of the city. The shivering waiter wanted us to sit inside, but still took the time to point out the view of Swayambu from our spot. We looked over the menu for a few minutes. As tempting as a whole sheep’s head for a wee 200 rupees was, we decided to leave and find food elsewhere.
Our long walk out of Patan ended in an alley off of Pulchowk, the main road of Lalitpur. We were trying to find a Mexican restaurant that had managed to survive here, but as we walked down the alley, a busboy pointed at us and said, “Lazy Gringo closed! Christmas, closed!” I was actually kind of impressed he deduced our destination so quickly, but then again, what other reason would two gringos have to be in that alley anyway?
We left, and I decided our new destination would be a small tandoori kebab restaurant nearby. Tandoori is a Punjabi thing, and it’s amazing. Essentially curry barbecue. In the smokey restaurant, we raised our Gorkhas and had our Christmas dinner. Tandoori chicken, chili chicken, butter naan, and beer. I’m used to our more traditional Italian food on Christmas with my family — lasagna, arancini, that sort of thing. But for my first Christmas away from home, this was a good substitute.
To Christmas in Nepal!