Nfld. & Labrador

Joys of Christmas: East meets west in this St. John's home

Christmas is around the corner and the Joy household isn't shying away from the celebrations. They draw on their Indian heritage as they combine traditions, old and new.

Jerry and Jasmi Joy keep alive traditions from India, while embracing new ones in Canada

Jerry Joy and his family love the Christmas holidays. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Christmas is around the corner and the Joy household isn't shying away from the celebrations. A massive tree, stockings and lots of warm lights fill their home while three young children add to the explosion of happiness.

"I think Christmas is a magical time to spend with the family and with friends. With elves. And with Santa," said Rianna, 9.

"I like to decorate the Christmas tree. I wanted to put the star on top, but it was too high," said six-year-old Meeva. At seven months, little sister Serah is wide-eyed as Christmas unfolds.

On the surface, Christmas at the Joy home appears to be like many others in St. John's.

But a closer look reveals an interesting mix of traditions from the east and west making their Christmas in Newfoundland and Labrador unique.

Rianna and Meeva's parents, Jerry and Jasmi Joy, are from the Kottayam district in the southern Indian state of Kerala. They identify as Roman Catholic Syrian Christians, a grouping of people who are Christian by faith, Indian by culture and East Syrian-Syriac in liturgy.

Gathering traditions

Jerry and Jasmi have called St. John's home for nearly a decade. Before their move, they celebrated Christmas in multiple countries including India, Singapore and Ireland. Over the years, they gathered age-old traditions of food and culture that they are now passing down to their kids.

"In terms of celebration, it's more or less the same [in India and Canada]," said Jasmi Joy. "You celebrate with your friends and kids [and the] kids have their own traditions, like Elf on the Shelf, Santa, baking cookies. We do all that, plus our tradition."

A Christmas decoration that has an extra meaning for the Joy family. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

One such tradition for the girls includes an Advent calendar comprising of doing one good action a day. Putting this into practice could mean helping their parents out in the kitchen or being there for a friend in need.

"I helped my friend when she got hurt outside [today]. I got my friend's books. I helped her get to the bench and told her it would be OK," said Meeva. 

Growing up in Kottayam district meant that Jasmi and Jerry's Christmas had less emphasis on Santa and more on the community that emerged from the local church, a cultural shift they indicated they have had to adapt to upon moving here. What remains the same is that, like other families, their Christmas is centred around the children, encouraging them to imbue the best of both the worlds.

"We try to do everything with kids," said Jasmi.

"They have so much they learn from here. And we have so much that we have been taught…from where we come from. So, we try to mix as much as we can and integrate their interest in what we want to. Preparing for Christmas in a fun and spiritual way. We try to create a balance where we can."

'It is a must-have'

A way they've achieved this is through passing down culture through food.

Jerry Joy has developed a following in the St. John's area for food. His Indian Express food truck draws a crowd hungry for butter chicken and other dishes.

At home during Christmas, a key dish for the Joys is appam, also known as palappam.

"Appam is basically a rice pancake. It is not made only around Christmas time, but it is a must-have," he said.

Food, fun and all the Joys: Visit the Joy household in this video: 

Soft in the middle, lacy and crispy on the edges, with a fluffy centre, an appam – much like a naan – is torn apart and used as a vessel to carry a special side dish called tharavu varutharacha, a duck roast curry made as part of the Christmas meal.

Made from a batter of rice, coconut milk, sugar and yeast, appams stir strong memories for Jerry and Jasmi.

Recalling his childhood, Jerry said at least 75 people would come to the family home for the Christmas celebration.

"Everyone will eat three or four appams … so imagine the number of appams my mother had to make."

(Mark Cumby/CBC)

The very same appams have travelled with Jerry and Jasmi across the world, continuing to find a space in their St. John's kitchen. Much like a gingerbread cookie, an appam adds that extra flavour to the Joy household's Christmas.

Even though Kerala and Newfoundland and Labrador are separated by thousands of kilometres, the Joy family comes together amid the aroma of cooking appams and stewing duck roast making their Christmas both Indian and Canadian.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Prajwala Dixit


Prajwala Dixit is a journalist, columnist, playwright and writer in St. John's.