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Christmas in India – Where East Meets West

Christmas in IndiaChristmas or ‘Bada Din’ (in Hindi), is celebrated with a lot of gaiety and fervor in India. The unique thing about Indian Christmas is that it combines the traditions from the Western Christian world with several Indian customs.

In Christian households, preparations for Christmas begin at least a month in advance. People clean their homes and get them whitewashed to give a fresh new look. Preparations begin well in advance to make the traditional Christmas fruit cake. Everyone buys new clothes for the festival and many gifts are purchased for friends and extended family. This also marks a time for family reunions. .

The Christmas Eve Midnight mass is a very important service for Indian Christians, especially Catholics. The whole family attends the mass, followed by a feast of different delicacies and the exchange of presents. Churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for this occasion.

In some parts of India, instead of putting up the traditional Christmas Trees, a banana or mango tree is decorated. People may also use mango leaves to decorate their homes. In Southern India, Christians often light oil burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes to show their neighbors that Jesus is the light of the world. This custom is very similar to the Hindu custom of lighting lamps during Diwali. Many people showcase a manger with the nativity scene in a front window, and hang star shaped paper lanterns in front of houses. In north-west India, the tribal Christians of the Bhil community, go out night after night for a week around Christmas to sing carols and tell the Christmas story. Christmas celebrations in Goa are probably one of the most exhilarating ones in India. A large number of domestic and international tourists flock to the beaches Goa during Christmas to watch the festivities, music and dance.

Roast duck is a popular menu item for Christmas lunch. Pork and mincemeat pies are also made during this time. In South Indian, appams (pancakes made of a batter of rice flour and coconut milk) are enjoyed with mutton stew. Other South Indian delicacies include Avial, Murukku (a fried pretzel made of lentil and rice flour), and Athirasam. Of course fruit cake, Christmas pudding, cookies and cakes are a staple as well.

The custom of Santa Claus or ‘Christmas Baba’ (in Hindi) delivering presents to kids is also growing in India, mainly with the commercialization of the holiday. In several parts of India, especially in metropolitan cities like, this festival has assumed secular overtones and is joyfully celebrated by people of all religions and communities.