I was taking a walk with my wife on the pavement of the main street of a small town in north India. We crossed the only church in the town and there was a big crowd of nicely dressed people, getting ready to attend the midnight mass. Outside, there were the usual vendors in any small town in India. People selling peanuts, golgappas and sweets. A guy carrying a bunch of brightly colored balloons was approaching us.
"Merry Christmas!", he said. We greeted him back and started looking at the balloons. I was a little curious and so, I asked,"Aapko pata hai Merry Christmas ka matlab?" (Do you know what Merry Christmas means?). He looked a little embarrased, "Pata hai sahib. Main Christian nahin hoon. Yeah mera tyohar nahin hain. Mujhe nahin bolna chahiye meri christmas." (I know Sahib. I am not a Christian. This is not my festival. I shouldn't say My Christmas).
The Hindi word for My is Meri, which sounds very similar to Merry, as in Merry Christmas.
Me and my wife exchanged a very brief glance. I was feeling a little naughty. So, I suggested to him, "Tab, shayed aapko kahna chahiye, Teri Christmas." (Then may be, you should say your Christmas.) Teri refers to a slightly disrespectful form of "you", usually reserved for children and close friends. He smiled back, "Nahin Sahib, thodi izzat ke sath bolna chahiye". (No Sahib, we should speak with some respect).
We bought a few balloons and resumed our walk. Behind us, we could hear the balloon-man approaching the next customer. He was shouting, "Aap-ki Christmas! Aap-ki Christmas!"(Your Christmas! Your Christmas!). He was using the respectful form of "you". There were puzzled looks all around.
My wife was giving me one of her furious stares. I whispered, "It sort of sounds like Happy Christmas from here. I think he will do just fine".
To all of you, everywhere. In all languages. Merry Christmas!