Christmas the Indian Way

Posted by Grigory Egorov • Friday, December 21. 2012 • Category: People and Places

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Even though a majority of Indians are Hindu, Christmas is widely celebrated around the country in some way or another, regardless of caste or creed. The Christmas period starts at least a week before Christmas day, and continues until New Year's day.

It comes without much surprise that Christmas is celebrated most enthusiastically by Christians. Some of my Indian Christian friends even keep fast from 1st of December until Christmas day! In the build up to the festival, houses in the Christian neighbourhoods look amazing. They are decorated with Christmas lights, golden stars and small cribs (mangers) that represent the stable where Jesus Christ was born. Some neighbourhoods even hold special competitions for the best crib decorations. People vote on the most beautifully-decorated ones and award them prizes right after the midnight mass on Christmas Day. Just like Hindus before Diwali, Christians are busy washing, painting, renovating and redecorating their places in the days leading up to Christmas.

A Christmas crib from Kerala
(c) by AMALAN619

“For me, Christmas has a similar feeling as Diwali – lights everywhere, people prepare for it, they fast and give each other presents,” says Shruti, an entrepreneur from Delhi who is a Hindu.

Many schools organise shows dedicated to Christmas: children dressed as angels perform on stage, sing Christmas carols and, of course, wish each other Merry Christmas. It is interesting that not only students of Christian schools take part in these performances - all kinds of pupils enjoy participating in the celebration. The government-run girl school near our office in South Delhi, for example, is buzzing with activity these days.

Of course, the highlight of the Christmas season is Christmas Mass. After the pompous mass in a beautifully decorated church, families gather at their homes to enjoy the traditional plum cake with raisins and almonds and drink a glass of wine. After that comes the main course, usually a non-vegetarian dish. For all people I asked about Christmas in India, the main difference between Diwali and Christmas is this cake and a non-veg meal. Even Santa Claus was not mentioned very often.

As in other countries, people staying away from home try to come home for Christmas to spend the holiday with their families. However, in contrast to Western celebrations, Christmas in India is more focused on the community than the family. It is the time when Indian Christians take special care of others in need. For example, some families post invitations to their Christmas dinners on noticeboards in the church so that other people can come and share the happiness – and sometimes even presents – of the celebration.

“Christmas is the time to buy new clothes for the next year. The best clothes people buy, they wear for the first time for the Christmas Mass,” comments Shammi, a Hindi teacher from Delhi who is a Christian.

As clothes are among the most popular Christmas presents, hectic shopping activity can be observed in the run-up to the festival. Huge malls, small shops and markets are draped in red and white, Christmas trees and socks, Santas, candles and fairy lights. Shops tend to be extremely overcrowded during the celebration season. Gift marketers make the best of this season by boosting the hype through special offers and sales.

In the biggest metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai, Christmas has assumed secular overtones and is enjoyed by everyone as a festival of unity and happiness. Music and decorations can be seen not only on churches and houses of devotees, but on most shops, cafes, and streets. Red Santa hats are omnipresent, they are sold at every big road crossing in Delhi. It is not unusual to see people wearing them on their way to work by metro!

Santa and the Band. Santa Hats are highly popular in India.
(c) by bernardoh

Urban families enjoy going out for food and drinks during the festive season. Christmas-themed all-you-can-eat buffets and family brunches are very popular. Of course, Christmas is a great time for partying. Urban youth meets to go out to enjoy one of the many special events held around the city. All clubs, restaurants and cafes have Christmas-themed evenings during the season.

“Christmas for us is the time to meet your friends, go out, have a few drinks and enjoy some non-veg food! It is the time when we celebrate unity. All young people love Christmas, no matter what their religious believes are,” explains Aru, a shopkeeper from Delhi who is a Hindu.

Are you in Delhi this Christmas and are still looking for ways to spend it? You may find some advice from the Christmas in Delhi: 10 Things to Do During the Festive Season article.
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