India prides itself in being the home to countless religions and cultures all living in harmony. Christmas, being 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 love and exhalation.
Almost anywhere you go, in India, you will 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 your Christmas eve.
One of the Union Territories of India, Puducherry, was for centuries under the colonization of the French. The capital city of Puducherry, Pondicherry, till date has numerous colonial structures like churches, buildings, temples and avenues.
Especially in the older parts of the city, the town designs 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.
Pondicherry, a place with an abundance of French culture and ancestry (not to forget the delectable French Cuisine), has numerous lofty churches that were mostly built during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
The festival of Christmas is celebrated with gusto in the city. As a part of their culture, Christmas celebration is not only mandatory, it is also a notion of their identity.
Situated right on the coastal areas of Bay of Bengal, amidst the salty air of the beaches, the entire city comes to life with the choir performances and masses during the midnight, especially when Christmas music festivals are held in 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 is held since years as a part of their tradition. The shops in the markets are all designed in accordance to the Christmas theme. They sell mulled wines, the conventional yule log bakeries and any shape of star to choose from.
Predominantly under the colonial rule of the Portugese and the British, Mumbai, one of the busiest cosmopolitan cities of India, is another place to celebrate your Christmas eve. Especially in the city that never seems to slow down, areas like Bandra, Juhu, South Bombay, Andheri and Malad the zeal is on another level.
To attend the holy masses in the midnight, you can attend 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.
Amongst which 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 all go all out on the Christmas themed menus (ranging from Christmas puddings, cakes, pies, stuffed turkeys and cocktails).
You can also visit places like Chuim in Bandra, Khotachiwadi in Girgaon, or even the 200years old Matharpacady village for a walk along the idiosyncratic old-fashioned cottages having British and Portugese architectural designs.
It gives a first hand experience of the history of the place by having these heritage walks.
One of the most unique features of celebrating your Christmas time in the city of Mumbai is the witnessing of India’s cohabitation of juxtaposed culture. Mahim Fair, a 12 days long festival, is held around the time of Christmas in memory of a Sufi saint. The fair is filled with Sufi music, Qawwalis, food stops 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, 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 Tribe communities of Meghalaya are primarily Christian.
Starting from the houses to being decorated, the streets are lit up, the people of Shillong prepare for the festivities since before the week of 25th December. Being one of the oldest Churches in the entire Northeast of India, Mary Help of Christians Cathedral is one of the largest reception to huge masses and crowd gathering during the Christmas eve.
The century old fir tree in the All Saints Cathedral is adorned with tinkles and lights.
Celebrating Christmas in Shillong, a city that is considered the “musical capital of India”, is a very joyous and tuneful atmosphere. Putting aside the carols, musicians and live bands perform gospels and hymns of Christmas at every corner of the city. The live gigs create an ambience that turns the place into 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 abundance of historical significance, Christmas is one of the most looked forward to right after Durga Puja. There are more than a few churches in Kolkata which are deemed impossible to visit 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 colours. Some of the popularly known churches in the area are Green Orthodox Church, Mission Church, Portugese 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 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 with people and illuminated with tinkles and lights.
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 as the main arena. The carnival starts from the 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 and 2 hours long Christmas Parade is also arranged. Especially during the night before Christmas eve and on the day of Christmas, boat cruises on the Hooghly River are managed by the Tourism of West Bengal, viewing the picturesque parts of Kolkata.
Goa is known for its fervor for nightlife and beaches. With a Portugese ancestry and an abode to over 400 churches, Goa is the destination for travellers to celebrate the Christmas festivities with ardour. It is the right place to be for someone who enjoys both beaches and a partying atmosphere.
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 Saligo village in North Goa has a Church called Mae de Deus that is entirely Gothic style. Another popular church to visit is the Pajim’s Fontainhas Latin Quarter.
Mouthwatering food in Goa during Christmas are pork sorpotel, roasted turkey, grilled seafood and the native desert, Bebinca. You choose your ideal place to have these, either as a luxurious meal at a 5 star hotel or as an idyllic meal at the shores of the beaches.
Spending your Christmas eve at Goa would mean a fabulous yet mesmerizing fireworks show at the beach. Both on the midnights of Christmas and New Year’s, a fireworks 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 in the Vagator beach!)
Lying on the Malabar Coast and often referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala was known for the hub of spice trade that many wanted to take advantage of. Amongst whom were the colonists from Portugese who even established the Fort Kochi in the year 1505 which is till 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 is one place to visit during Christmas. Whereas, you can also go to the St. Francis Church in Kochi which is one of the oldest churches in India with many Portugese artifacts preserved till date.
Kochi’s Santa Cruz Basilica is also known for its Gothic architectural designs. 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 tinklets and showered with love by the locals who wholeheartedly participate in the masses and carols.
Kochi also conducts Cochin Carnival in the Fort Kochi and Kochi Muziris Biennale which are a sort of shopping festivals. In the Cochin Carnival a huge procession is made to burn the effigy of the Santa. According to the inherited culture of the Portugese, it is not a Santa but an old man who is a manifestation of evil that is being burnt to ash.
The region also arranges a Indira Gandhi Boat Race to make your Christmas more joyous and exhilarated occasion. Kovalam beach, another tourist attraction, organizes beach carnivals during the Christmas time.