KOCHI: Come Christmas, and Fort Kochi gets decked up like a bride with the infectious Yuletide spirit lingering in the air. Perhaps, nowhere in Kerala are the flavours of Christmas so enticing and vivid than in this town bearing the cultural imprint of three European powers.Cakes, Xmas trees and carols apart, what lends a special flavour to Christmas in Fort Kochi is a unique, little-known tradition treasured by the Anglo-Indian community here. A relic of the Portuguese colonial era, ‘Consoada’ is a tradition celebrating the spirit of sharing. It involves sending trays loaded with home-made sweets to relatives, friends and neighbours on Christmas Eve. Although this custom is fading away, a few Anglo-Indian families of the locality still religiously observe it.
Mona D’silva, a retired teacher who stays in Petercellie Street, is one of the few persons who observe the sweet tradition. “I still prepare sweets and send them to relatives and friends,” she tells Express, pointing to a tray loaded with traditional sweets such as plum cake, tea cake, ghee biscuits, coconut biscuits and ‘matrimony’ fresh from the oven.
The platter is not complete without plum cake, which has lots of raisins and dry fruits that have been soaked in liquor for 15 to 30 days, says Mona, who stays in a centuries-old Dutch house. “‘Matrimony’ is another important component of the ‘Consoada’ tray and it is made of cashew nuts, sugar, essence and butter. The items are arranged on a tray and covered with a cloth and sent to relatives,” she says.
“Earlier, it was the duty of the servants of each household to carry the trays and distribute them, and they used to get tips from each house. Each tray has to contain at least five sweets. Kulkuls, a fried confectionary item, also finds a place on the tray along with banana chips,” says Mona’s relative and neighbour Hyacinth Rebeiro, who zealously follows this centuries-old custom.
“It is mandatory for the families receiving the goodies to reciprocate in the same manner. However, if there is a death in the family, we receive the sweets, but we do not send anything in return,” she says.
“This tradition is about sharing, and when we were young, we used to look forward to receiving these trays from relatives,” says Ivan D’Costa, one of the senior-most members of the Anglo-Indian community in Fort Kochi. “However, it has declined as very few families are keen to observe it.”
Adrian D’Cruz, another prominent member of the community, shares the same feeling.
“We old-timers nostalgically look back to the good old days when everyone used to send trays of sweetmeats. Earlier, everything was home-made. Now, these items are available off the shelf and it has spoiled the spirit of ‘Consoada’,” he says.
The Goan connection
Four-and-a-half centuries of Portuguese rule has left an indelible cultural imprint on Goa so much so the tradition of ‘Consoada’ is still vibrant there and is observed with gusto by members of the Roman Catholic community. Unlike in Fort Kochi, the ‘Consoada’ delicacies in Goa are mostly of Portuguese origin. They include bolo de rei made of flour, eggs and candied fruit, bolinhos (coconut cookies), teias de aranhas prepared from tender coconut, neuries (coconut puffs) and, of course, the ubiquitous bebinca (a layered cake made of flour, eggs, ghee and coconut milk). History says many of these sweets were introduced to Goans by the Portuguese nuns of the Santa Monica convent in Old Goa centuries ago.