The other day, my wife was chiding me for not making time for what she said was a very important shopping rendezvous for our daughter, aged three and a half years. So - I managed time and we finished her Christmas shopping: Christmas tree, decorations - balls, baubles, stars, bells, holly, Santa caps, stockings, mistletoe, streamers, rice lights, big red star, Christmas carols CD, Christmas cake - et al.
Didn't bat an eye lid, did you? There can be only two reasons: either you are a Christian; or you don't see anything wrong with a Hindu family staying in a metro celebrating Christmas.
It started innocuously enough - we sent emails and messages to our multi-lingual/multi-racial friends on their festivals. 'Eid Mubarak' we said, or 'Holi Mubarak', 'Shubho Bijoya' or 'Onashamsakal'. We made the extra effort to ask/look up for the appropriate greeting so as to make it more endearing. Nothing touches the Indian's heart more than some outsider making an effort to imbibe their local customs; notice how we go "Aww, that's so cute" whenever someone tries to pronounce our greetings at us in their attempt-to-get-it-right-accent (maybe this explains the success of Katrina Kaif, but I digress). We are also the first ones to correct someone who's attempting, almost indulgently.
The next step was to attend each other's festivals. Leading mostly nuclear lives in cities that we have adopted or adopt for a short period of time before moving on to other cities, friends become the cornerstones of our existence. About 20 years ago, when someone was moving to another city, one asked for and looked up distant relatives or cousins residing in the said city. It didn't matter that one hadn't been in touch for years together - it was considered the right thing to do.
The said cousin/distant relative, perhaps grudgingly, accommodated or helped out the new immigrant. Today (and I say this with some trepidation), in all probability, one doesn't even bother with the relatives/cousins; they don't 'get' you. You lead a different lifestyle - have different tastes. So friends it is.
Again, unlike 20 years ago, today we make friends irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Our tribes have changed - languages, schools and hometowns aren't as appropriate anymore, while professions, interests, passions, proximity and convenience bring us together.
Somewhere, you start looking forward to these festivals because it means you'd be socializing with a bunch of people who have a similar lifestyle as yours, not to mention similar interests.
Then, you move away from this set of friends and move to another city - and sometimes you miss the whole bonhomie of a festival that you had taken a liking to. So what do you do? You look for friends having the same festivals or carry those festivals as your own. Often, it isn't the entire festival but a ritual associated with it that takes your fancy or endears itself to you.
Anybody who has lived in an Islamic country will surely miss the 'Iftaari dawaats' that happen every evening during the holy month of Ramzan - at every office that one visits. Similarly, we have the 'Thandai' during Holi or firecrackers during Diwali. The Christmas special cakes were actually adopted much earlier by the non-Christians!
Consumer trends are best captured by the friendly neighbourhood market. They read us like the proverbial mother. No more visiting a particular bazaar or marketplace for festival-specific shopping. Take a minute and think of all the markets in your city from where you shopped for a particular festival. Now, think about when you went there last.
People loathe leaving their catchments (which explains the explosion of malls all around us) and the neighbourhood market realises this. You rationalise the slightly premium price by the transportation and time cost involved in shopping from wherever you were buying the stuff from originally.
Brands still haven't managed to capture this good cheer amongst the cosmopolitan consumers to their advantage. Several multi-national brands often steer away from festive communication because it makes them seem biased towards a particular religion. Those which do communicate make it sound so banal, predictable and routine that it doesn't endear itself to the consumer.
Ad for Christmas: Need snowflakes, Santa, reindeer + sledge, holly, conifer tree with a mistletoe tied to the top corner, with the message: This Christmas, Do more X and enjoy more Y. Next year, Rinse, Repeat.
It is time brands woke up to the reality of the changing consumer and appeared to be genuinely interested and engaging. She's happy, reckless - with an open purse. It's the right time to wish her and celebrate along with her. It's time we re-visited our marketing calendars and picked up the right kind of festivals - ones that lend themselves to the cosmopolitan woman!
Here's a free tip: I predict a rise in celebrations for Halloween. Happy 'Makar Sankranti' to you, too.
(The author is vice-president, Mudra India)