Christmas Celebrations in India
Come November and almost every Christian eagerly awaits December, which is when Christmas is celebrated in India and in most parts of the world. It’s that magical time of the year, when people anxiously look forward to planning and spending time with their immediate, as well as, extended families. Grudges, bitterness and differences are put aside and the spirit of this holy and lively festival takes over! Christmas sweets/ goodies, clothes and food are shared with the less fortunate in the community and the infectious Christmas cheer and spirit prevails all over.
Christmas, called ‘Bada Din’in Hindi, is celebrated on the 25th of December in India and is a gazetted holiday. While this day/ festival is perceived by non-christians as just a day to rejoice the birth of Jesus Christ, it is actually a period of reflection, gratitude and worship for Christians who believe that Our Lord Jesus came into this world to save us from our sins.
The days leading up to Christmas are spent in preparation for this joyous day. Family members get together and toil away at making some delicious Christmas sweets and delicacies like kulkuls, newries (sweet puffs), rose cookies, milkcream toffees, marzipan, guava cheese and many more items. Houses are cleaned, spruced up and decorated with delightful Christmas décor. An artificial Christmas tree, symbolic of eternal life, is put up and adorned with some beautiful tinsel, colourful ribbons, streamers, bells, stars, baubles and ornaments made of glass, wood, metal or ceramic. It is further brought to life, with some colourful electric lighting. Most families delight in putting up the Christmas tree together and it is a kind of family ritual for most, enjoyed with some traditional Christmas Carols playing in the background. Some also put up a crib/ nativity scene with clay figures of Baby Jesus in the manger, his parents Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and their flock of animals along with the three kings.
Most Christians enjoy the feel and soulfulness of the traditional midnight Mass and participate in the services held on Christmas Eve across all churches in India. The churches are beautifully decorated with lighting and the youth of the parish community painstakingly build huge, beautiful cribs/ the nativity scene in the church premises. The carol singing of the choir and humanitarian theme based sermons of the priest lend a different meaning to the service and cajole the participants into self-introspection. Of course, one can also attend the regular morning mass on Christmas Day which is no less in its spirituality. The congregation share some cake and wine together on this festive day and then make their way home to celebrate the festival with family and friends. One custom which has passed down from generations is the exchange of Christmas gifts amongst adults and the surprise gifts from Santa Claus for small children. These gifts are normally found under the Christmas tree on Christmas Day! Families spend time with each other and partake of a feast prepared for this day. Family and friends make the time to visit each other during the season and exchange sweets and gifts.
This festival is no longer only celebrated by or restricted to just Christians in India, especially in the metros. People of other communities too enjoy the rituals and ceremonies associated with this festival and happily attend Mass and participate in the revelry. Christian colonies and most buildings, outlets, stores, restaurants and malls are beautifully decorated with lights, lamps, huge paper stars and artificial Christmas trees. Malls attract more people with various Christmas themes, festivities and make-believe Santa Claus who parade around the place delighting the kids with gifts and treats. All of this and the décor at home as well as in public places continue to be hung till well past the New Year. Various Christmas based events and parties are held across the big cities and people participate in them freely and without inhibition.
This festival is celebrated in different ways across India, depending on the customs and cultural influence in that part of the country. Goa is, perhaps the most frequented and well known for its Christmas festivities, revelry on the beaches and cultural activities and thus most visited by both domestic and international tourists during this festive season. Homes in Southern India are decorated with clay lamps on their roof-tops or walls of their houses, similar to the diyas lit during Diwali. The rural population in several other states, believe in decorating a banana or mango tree for Christmas, because of the non-availability of the traditional pine tree. North-East India celebrates Christmas with great fervour and enthusiasm and is famous for their melodious and hugely talented choir singers who belt out Christmas Carols for several days during this season, through the night, visiting house after house.
Thus, India in its diversity comes together as one during all major festivals, irrespective of class, caste, creed and religion. So let’s rejoice and celebrate the spirit of Christmas together in 2017 and ring in the New Year on a high note!
Picture Credit: Paahun Tour Managers, Indileak.Com and India.Com