There is the gingerbread house and there are stolen breads, marshmallows and chocolate Santas. But what makes Christmas different at an upscale hotel in New Delhi is a bunch of teenagers from St Agnel’s school in Greater Noida. Every day, seven children from the school finish their classes and get ready to travel 40km — all the way from Greater Noida to Chanakyapuri in the heart of Delhi.
At The Leela Palace’s main lobby area, they perform for an hour during the special Christmas afternoon tea session, after which, they travel another 40km, back to the boarding school. All the while they are singing carols, their teacher waits patiently in the lobby for them to finish so that she can escort them back to school safely. But none of them has any qualms about it. In fact, they perform with full excitement and say that they want to be here forever, singing all the time.
The boarding school is home to as many as 250 underprivileged children from all over India, and some even from Nepal, who are either orphan, homeless, or have been abandoned by their families. Says Nitesh from Nepal, who has been at St Agnel since the age of three, says, “I have been singing carols for more than 10 years. I enjoy the ambience of this hotel, wish I could come here otherwise too.”
Adds Reema, all of 13, “I want to be a singer when I grow up. Singing here has helped me overcome my stage fright. Before that, we were just singing carols in the school, in front of our classmates and teachers.”
Besides getting a huge round of applause from assembled guests, they get candies and treats from the hotel staff too. And some times, more than that. On Wednesday evening, as they sang, a guest rose from his seat and handed them some prize money too, as Christmas gift. Some times, Santa comes early.