Do you know what’s the best thing about growing up in India? It’s the holidays we get to celebrate, all thanks to the diverse religions occupying this country. India, a multicultural country in the truest sense, witnesses scores of festivals every year, each celebrated with loads of gusto. And just like Diwali, Eid, and Holi, even Christmas is also celebrated with equal pomp. Yes, despite having just 2.3% of Christians residing in India, Christmas is celebrated with equal fervor by people of every religion in this country.
Unlike Thanksgiving and Halloween, which gained traction a couple of years ago, Christmas has been celebrated in India for as long as the arrival of Christianity. Over the years, this festival has picked up local flavor to turn into a celebration that’s as Indian and its western. There’s no disparity between a Christian and a non-Christian celebrating. Kids and even adults from all religion hang up stockings and visit Midnight Mass. In fact, non-Christians far outnumber Christians at the church on Christmas eve. People get together, exchange gifts, sing carols, share wine, pray, feast and enjoy each other’s company on this joyous day. Today we’ll discuss in detail the Christmas traditions in India. So stay tuned.
Christmas Traditions In India:
Christmas in India is a federal holiday, hence post offices, government offices, schools and banks remain closed on this day. Public transportation remains open on this day.
There are around 24 million Christians residing in India, with Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu having the highest population. The largest Christian community in India resides in Kerala, occupying 22% of the population and majority of them are Roman Catholics.
Christmas In Kerala:
Christmas in Kochi, a city in Kerala is extra special because it coincides with the Cochin Carnival, which starts before Christmas and continues until New Year. Traditional Christians observe fast from 1st of December to the 24th December, until the arrival of Christmas is announced. If you want to get a feel of European Christmas in Kochi, head to the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica for the Midnight Mass. The Midnight Mass has an Indo-European feel to it. You can even visit St. Francis Church, which houses the remains of Vasco Da Gama.
But there’s one peculiar thing about Christmas celebrations in Kochi, Kerala. People of Kochi burn Santa Claus on the New Year’s Eve, which symbolizes the burning of old and welcoming of new.
Christmas In Goa:
The place where you’ll witness the most exhilarating Christmas celebration in Goa, a small state in the west of India home to around 26% Christmas. During Christmas, kids of every religion and background come together to sing carols and aunties distribute sweets in their neighborhood.
Unlike South Indians, Goa’s Christmas celebration is a lot inspired by the western countries, especially Europe because Goa is historically connected with Portugal. The Goan Catholics attend the traditional midnight mass service called Misse de Galo or Cock Crow, which goes on until the early hours of the morning. After the solemn church service, people embrace each other and wish Merry Christmas in either Konkani, Portuguese or English. Goans even celebrate Epiphany to remember the three Wise Men visiting Jesus.
Christmas In Mumbai:
Mumbai’s Christian community is spread across the suburbs and island city. Some of the churches date back to the 17th century, which explains how deep-rooted Christianity is in this city. Wherever you live in Mumbai, you wouldn’t have to go far to see beautifully decorated windows and glistening walkways. Christmas merrymaking in Mumbai starts at the 1st week of December. The neighborhoods of Borivali, Bandra, and Malad are flocked with stalls selling Christmas decoration items and other knick-knacks. Damian, a furniture store in Mehboob Studio is a selfie spot itself, all thanks to its massive window display.
Christmas In Kolkata:
Christmas celebrations in Kolkata are cosmopolitan in the truest sense. Foreigners from all over the world flock to Kolkata to see the gorgeous display and decoration at Park Street and enjoy the authentic European Christmas delicacies. The state government of Kolkata itself organizes a Christmas to New Year festival which lit up the city.
The most fascinating part about Christmas celebration in Kolkata is that 80 percent of those who celebrate are non-Christians. Bow Barracks, an area housing the largest Christian population in Kolkata also organizes a week-long Christmas festivity open to all. It’s a sight for sore eyes seeing women dressed in traditional attire and dancing in high heels.
Stalls selling Christmas decorations come up in the center of New Market, one of the most popular shopping hubs of Kolkata. Santa Claus of all sizes, shiny ornaments, chains of mistletoe leaf and holly appear like a colorful mass when viewed from a distance.
Christmas In Garo Khasi:
You know it’s Christmas season in Garo Khasi when you come across village women selling holly in cane baskets. Hollies, locally known as ‘soh Krismas’ find their way into North East India’s household as a part of Christmas décor. The Christians of Bhil folk sing their own carols night after night until Christmas. They even visit the surrounding villages to narrate Christmas stories to people.
In Meghalaya, a predominantly Christian state, Christmas is the highlight of the winter season and the entire month of December is devoted to its preparation. Not just schools, but even offices are given a long break to help people soak in the festivity. Police Bazaar, the focal point of Meghalaya, gets flooded with people when the Christmas shopping season reaches its peak. Everything related to Christmas, right from the clothes to the electronic items fly off the shelves as you blink.
Christmas is a reunion in the truest sense in North East India. Those who study or work outside ensure that they return home for the holidays. It won’t be wrong to say that family is the core of Christmas in Meghalaya.
Christmas Decorations In India:
In India, festivals are always celebrated with colors and light, and Christmas is no different. Just like western countries, the decoration for Christmas starts on the 1st of December or the advent of Christmas. The churches of India are decorated beautifully with lights and poinsettia flowers for the Christmas Eve Midnight mass service and believe us, they look stunning. Even the markets, local stores, and malls are draped in flower, paper streamers, and twinkling lights.
Most of the Catholics decorate their houses with an artificial or pre-lit Christmas tree, but some who are rooted in their culture decorate a mango or banana tree. In Southern India, some people even place lit clay lamps on their roofs, which signify that Jesus is the light of their world. Since there’s a shortage of snow, kids drape cotton wool all over their trees to give a frosted look.
Goans, on the other hand, hang star-shaped paper lanterns in their houses, outside and even in between so that it appears as if people are walking below the stars.
In Delhi, people flock to the Khan Market and malls to buy Christmas decorations. But there’s a hidden gem, which not many are of, and that’s Sadar Bazar. There are scores of shops selling all kinds of Christmas decorations you can imagine, that too at a fraction of the price at malls and even Khan Market.
Christmas Food In India:
Christmas cooking in India, especially the preliminary preparations start at least a week before the main day. Sweets, especially hold immense importance in this festival. In fact, making sweets is a family affair in India. Women of the family and even extended family get together and make batches of different confectionaries. Cultural influences can be seen in Indian Christmas desserts as well. Fruitcakes in Indian are influenced by British plum puddings and are called plum cakes here, while rose cookies are a result of Dutch occupation.
Kuswar, originating from Goa, is the traditional Indian Christmas sweets. Besides, a lot of local Christmas delicacies are enjoyed during Christmas time such as dodol and newrio, but not as much as the traditional rich fruitcake. Kidiyo, which translates into worms, are also common in India during Christmas. They are deep fried dough balls, dusted in icing sugar. Savory banana chips, chaklis, and cashew macaroons are also a part of the Christmas meal. No wonder, Christmas is a melting pot of all cultures and regions.
In India, the main Christmas meal is eaten on the Christmas Eve itself. Chicken curry and pork are staples of Indian Christmas. They are made in advance and left to mature. Steam rice cakes are also essential to Indian Christmas dinners. These cakes are left to ferment overnight so that they are perfect to soak up the curries. The western influence can be seen on the Christmas table also, especially in Goa, where roast chicken or turkey is for the main course.
It’s a bit different in Delhi though. Gujiya, a sweet dish usually prepared in Holi, is made for Christmas as well. Even traditional Mughlai food Yakhni Pulao and Zarda are made for Christmas. This explains the influence of Indo-Gangetic culture in North India.
Traditional Christmas dishes in North East India include doh jem, which is a meat preparation, jadoh, a rice and meat dish, and putharo, steamed rice cakes. Cakes are an absolute staple on their Christmas table.
Some people even flock to the best confectionaries of their town to get Christmas cakes, cookies, and other goodies. Wenger’s in Delhi and Nahoum’s in Kolkata are famous spots for getting Christmas desserts. In fact, Christmas shopping feels incomplete without getting rich plum or fruit cake from these iconic bakeries, whether you’re baking at home or not. Some people even buy homemade Christmas cakes and wine sold by Christian families residing in Bow Barracks.
Just like other parts of the world, Santa Claus or Father Christmas delivers presents to children. The chariot of Santa Claus filled with gifts and the figurine of Santa himself are placed in several malls and parks.
If you want to feel like a local in Goa, start by booking a table at the Venite Restaurant and feasting on lobster and champagne. This is the ideal Christmas dinner in Goa. From there, head down to the Chapel of St. Sebastian to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Nativity Scene:
Nativity scenes or Christmas cribs as they are called in India, are an important part of the Indian Christmas tradition. Nativity scenes are organized early in the month in most of the cities and some even organize friendly competition between churches and neighborhoods and as to which nativity scene would be more detailed and resplendent. It’s ensured that clay figurines of all the important characters are placed in the crib. At the midnight of Christmas Eve, people would keep the figurine of baby Jesus in the scene to make it complete. Mangers are also set up in a convent or missionary schools and churches. Most of the Indian churches even weave a social theme in their Nativity play.
Christmas Eve In India:
Midnight mass is as important with Anglo Indians, especially with Catholics, as it’s with Christians residing in other parts of the world. People dress up in their finest clothes and walk to the nearest church for the mass, which begins carol singing. Churches with a huge population hold Midnight Mass services at Maidan for the comfort of everyone. After the mass, people line up to for the host from the priest. After all the rituals, people head to their houses to enjoy their Christmas meal.
If you’re in Delhi, you must definitely visit the Cathedral Church of Redemption, a heritage monument governed under the President’s Estate. Every year, the church is packed with both Christians and non-Christians. They even serve cake and coffee after the service.
Christmas Morning In India:
Christmas mornings in India often begins with people waking up to the smell of a delicious breakfast. A traditional Kochi Christmas breakfast includes traditional beef stew served with appam or bread. The head of the family serves the breakfast to everyone, and then everyone eats. Post breakfast, people visit their friends and family and neighbors with cookies, wine or fruitcake. Everyone in the neighborhood gets goodies, regardless of the religion.
We hope you enjoyed learning about Indian Christmas traditions. We’d love to know how you celebrate Christmas in your country or city. Let us know by commenting below.