India prides itself on being home to countless religions and cultures, all living in harmony. Christmas, one of the largest celebrated festivals in the entire world, is also a part of Indian culture. Celebrated every year on the 25th of December, marking the birth of Jesus Christ and a national holiday, Christmas is commemorated with much excitement.
Almost anywhere you go in India, you'll find people from different backgrounds coming together to share happiness. With deep-rooted history, there are certain places in India that are the best to celebrate Christmas.
One of the Union Territories of India, Puducherry was for centuries under the colonization of the French. The capital city of Puducherry, Pondicherry, still has numerous colonial structures. A place with an abundance of French culture and ancestry (not to forget the delectable French Cuisine), it has numerous lofty churches that were mostly built during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
The town designs itself follow French-styled motifs which are preserved as a part of the city's beauty and history, making it one of the tourist attractions of Tamil Nadu. This is mainly noticed in the older part of the town. The festival of Christmas is celebrated with gusto in the city. As a part of their culture, a Christmas celebration is not only mandatory but is also a part of their identity.
Situated right on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, amidst the salty air of the beaches, the entire city comes to life with choir performances and midnight masses. A sight to see are the Christmas music festivals held n the beaches.
Churches like the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, and Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges are one of the few that put everything into making it one of the grandest celebrations of the year.
The best part about celebrating Christmas in Pondicherry is the annual Marche de Noel or the Christmas market that's been held for years as a part of their tradition. The shops in the markets are all designed in accordance with the Christmas theme. They sell mulled wines, the conventional yule log dessert, and any shape of a star to choose from.
Predominantly under the colonial rule of the Portuguese and the British, Mumbai, one of the busiest cosmopolitan cities of India, is another place to celebrate your Christmas eve. In the city that never seems to slow down, areas like Bandra, Juhu, South Bombay, Andheri and Malad have a zeal is on another level.
To attend the holy masses (some of which are at midnight), you can visit Gloria Church in Byculla, Colaba's Holy Name Cathedral, Saint Thomas's Cathedral in Fort, Saint Michael's Church in Mahim, Orlem Church in Malad, and Bandra's Saint Peter's Church to name a few. Among these, Bandra's Mount Mary's Basilica has earned quite the name for being a place where celebrities come in for prayers.
During Christmas, the restaurants, bakeries and pubs go all-out on the Christmas-themed menus ranging from Christmas puddings, cakes, pies, stuffed turkeys to fancy cocktails.
You can also visit places like Chuim in Bandra, Khotachiwadi in Girgaon, or even the 200-year-old Matharpacady village for a walk amidst the old-fashioned cottages; with British and Portuguese architectural designs and adorned in Christmas decorations, they're a sight to see. You can get a first-hand experience of the history of the place by going on heritage walks.
One of the most unique features of celebrating Christmas time in the city of Mumbai is witnessing India's cohabitation of juxtaposed culture. Mahim Fair, a 12-day festival, is held around the time of Christmas in memory of a Sufi saint. The fair is filled with Sufi music, Qawwalis, food and fun, showcasing the harmony of different cultures during the same time.
The Northeastern part of India is rarely brought up while talking about festivities like Christmas. The "abode of clouds", Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya, is one of the places where Christmas is celebrated with a lot of passion and authenticity.
The British proclaimed Shillong to be the " Scotland of the East", having built various monuments and buildings in the colonial period (like the Motphran and Wards Lake). The Khasi tribal communities of Meghalaya are primarily Christian.
Starting with decorating their houses and lighting up the streets, the people of Shillong prepare for the festivities from before the week of Christmas. Being one of the oldest Churches in all of Northeast India, the Mary Help of Christians Cathedral sees huge crowds gathering to celebrate mass on Christmas eve. The century-old fir tree in the All Saints Cathedral is adorned with decoration and lights.
Celebrating Christmas in Shillong, a city that is considered the musical capital of India, is a very joyous thing to do. Plus, there are musicians and live bands performing Christmas carols at every corner of the city. The live gigs create an ambiance that makes the festivities a melodious affair. The music cafes of the place become one of the most sought-out and crowded hubs of the area.
With the streets of Kolkata, previously referred to as Calcutta, being privy to an abundance of historical significance, Christmas is one of the most anticipated festivals right after Durga Puja. There are more than a few churches in Kolkata that are decked up for the festival, and it's practically deemed impossible to visit them all during a single walk.
You can hop on a cab for a ride along the streets to see the entire city sparkling with fairy lights of various colors. Some of the popularly known churches in the area are Green Orthodox Church, Mission Church, Portuguese Church, St. Andrew's Kirk and St. John's Church.
You can notice how the churches in Kolkata are embellished with tinted glass windows, paintings, artifacts, and have an architectural significance to them.
The St. Paul's Cathedral in Park Street is the place where the crowd gathers for the midnight mass. The cathedral, built in the mid-19th Century in Indo-Gothic design, is completely surrounded by people and illuminated with tinkles and lights. While on the other hand, the Bow Barracks Fest in the central part of Kolkata gives you a rare sight of Santa arriving in rickshaws for the Yuletide celebrations.
Christmas in Kolkata would mean visiting the Park Street Carnival that is held every year at Allen Park. The carnival starts from St. Xavier's College in Park Street to the Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Numerous cultural functions are conducted with loads of food stalls in place. Live choirs sing into the night and a 2 hour long Christmas Parade is also arranged. Boat cruises on the Hooghly River are managed by the Tourism of West Bengal, particularly on the few nights around Christmas day.
Goa is known for its nightlife and beaches. But with Portuguese heritage and an abode to over 400 churches, Goa is the destination for travelers to celebrate the Christmas festivities with ardor. It's the right place to be for someone who enjoys both, beaches and a partying atmosphere, plus religious fervor and devotion.
Midnight masses can be attended at any of the churches, popular tourist choices being the Immaculate Conception Church and the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The Saligao village in North Goa has a church called Mae de Deus that is entirely Gothic in architecture. Another popular place to visit is Pajim's Fontainhas Latin Quarter.
Some mouthwatering dishes to have in Goa during Christmas are pork sorpotel, roasted turkey, grilled seafood, and the native desert, Bebinca. You can choose your ideal place to have these, either as a luxurious meal at a 5-star hotel or as an idyllic meal at the beaches.
Spending your Christmas eve in Goa would mean fabulous yet mesmerizing fireworks at the beach. On the midnight of Christmas and New Year's, a firework show is put up for everyone as a gesture of good oncoming happy days. Calangute and Baga are the popular beaches in the North of Goa.
Bogmalo and Colva beaches are the ones to visit in the South of Goa for a fireworks show. While you're at it, consider joining the Sunburn Music Festival that is held from 27th to 30th of December at the Vagator beach!
Lying on the Malabar Coast and referred to as God's Own Country, Kerala was known for its access to the spice trade that many wanted to take advantage of. Amongst these were the colonists from Portugal who even established Fort Kochi in the year 1505, to date one of the tourist attractions in the area.
One of the oldest churches in Kerala is the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolores that is located in the district of Thrissur, a definite place to visit during Christmas. You can also go to the St. Francis Church in Kochi which is one of the oldest churches in India. It has Portugal architecture and artifacts preserved up until today.
Kochi's Santa Cruz Basilica is also known for its Gothic architecture. Madre de Deus Church is one of the popular churches in Trivandrum. Each district in Kerala has quite a few popular churches that are embellished with decorations and showered with love by the locals who wholeheartedly participate in the masses and carols.
Kochi also has the Cochin Carnival in Fort Kochi and the Kochi Muziris Biennale, both of which are shopping festivals of a kind. The Cochin Carnival has a huge procession to burn the effigy of an old man. According to the inherited culture of the Portuguese, this old man is a manifestation of evil, which is why they burn it.
The region also arranges an Indira Gandhi Boat Race to make your Christmas a more exhilarating occasion. Kovalam beach, another tourist attraction, organizes beach carnivals during Christmas time.
Christmas celebrations in India are marked with Christmas trees and lights adorning houses, churches and public spaces. Often, carols are sung by groups of people and by choirs in churches. Plus, every region has slightly different ways to celebrate the festival, merged with their local customs and cultures.
Christmas is mainly celebrated in the urban metropolitan areas of India, particularly in regions with a high population of Christians. There’s also a substantial celebration in Northeast India as mentioned, mainly due to the Christian population there.
Yes, Christmas day (December 25) is a public holiday for everyone in India irrespective of religious belief or background. However, the rest of Christmas season isn’t a holiday, unlike in some other parts of the world.