Like so many good things in life — football, beaches and calamari — Christmas and New Year in Goa are exotic affairs. It’s the time of midnight masses, carols, open-air dances, beach parties, bazaars selling sweets, stars and baubles.
Here’s our list of the most interesting things to do in Goa in this season:
Just for dessert lovers
The festive season brings many special desserts to the table. These sweets are made at home and sent in napkin-covered trays to relatives and friends. The offering, known as kuswar, consists of traditional Goan Christmas treats like neureos (fried half-moon pastries filled with semolina and coconut), mandares which are made with pumpkin and rice flour, kulkuls, doce de grão made of gram lentil, sugar and coconut and bebinca. Nowadays people also add gingerbread men, marshmallows, yule logs, fudge, and marzipan to the kuswar.
Bakeries where you can get these are: Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro on 31 January Road in Panjim; Mr. Baker 1922, near the Church square in Panjim; Bakers Street on Chogm Road in Porvorim; A Pastelaria in Panjim Felicidade stores in Mapusa and Marliz in Margao; Nostalgia in south Goa; Rita’s Gourmet Goa in Vasco and some shops in Mapusa and Panjim markets.
Go crib hopping
I have fond memories of my year spent in Goa when my new-born son nearly became the infant Christ in a village nativity play. During Christmas, cribs depicting scenes of the birth of Jesus are put up in homes, churches, chapels, and some squares. The vaddo (neighbourhood) children help with making the crib. You can join a local crib trail or walk around looking for these on your own.
Burn the old man tradition
In some places, locals practice an old custom to usher in the New Year – burning an effigy of an old man. Village youngsters stuff hay in the effigy and put them up them in prominent spots. The old man is dressed up in old clothes, is (sometimes) hoisted on a bicycle, holds a bottle of alcohol, and has a cigar in his mouth. He symbolises the year gone by and is set aflame purge the old and bring in the New Year. In parts of Europe, Colombia, New Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, burning effigies of old men on New Year’s Eve is common.
Carols and midnight mass
Dress up in your finest and head to a church to attend Missa de Galo, the traditional midnight mass. You could say a prayer, or sing a hymn or two at any of the ancient picturesque churches in the state. If you are in the quieter South, do visit the Margao tinto Christmas Special at Clube Harmonia de Margao which promises to recapture the ‘spirit of the olden days’. The tinto is the village square where locals meet to exchange news over hot snacks and tea.
Immerse in local music and culture
Catch a musical or a tiatr (a type of musical theatre) performance at the Kala Academy in Panjim on the banks of the Mandovi River. This year, the first edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival will take place from 16th to 23rd December. It is an eight-day cultural extravaganza of performing, visual and culinary arts spread across seven venues along a 2km stretch of the Mandovi river in Panjim.
Picnic on the beach
Mapusa market has an enclosure with stalls selling local breads like the bangled-shaped kankon, crispy undos and paos. Pick up a basketful, add some Kodai cheese, your choice of filling, and you have a meal on the go. Hire a two-wheeler and go for an impromptu picnic on a quiet beach stretch. Stay till sunset.
Watch the fireworks
At the beach, set out a blanket, sit back and watch fireworks lighting up the midnight sky on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The best ones to visit are Candolim, Baga, Calangute, Vagator beaches in the north and Colva, Bogmalo in the south.
Cycling on 1st January
If you are a fitness freak, start the year with a cycle ride party (from December 31 till January 1, 2017) organised by Cycling Zen. They will meet at 5:45am at Coquero circle in Porvorim. The destination is Palolem beach South Goa, where the party begins at 7pm.
Party all night
Goa is notorious for a good party. Some of the more popular beaches have impromptu dancing and parties open to everyone. Special Christmas Eve dances are held in Panjim, Margaon and in bigger towns like Mapusa where you can kick up your heels and jive to local bands playing retro numbers or peppy Konkani songs. If you are looking for pumping music and crowds, try nightclubs like Marbela Beach Resort, Cafe Lilliput, Tito’s or Gigi’s.
Here’s a sampling of some of the club parties this year: 31 NORTH at Rockwater Resort in Gawde Vaddo in Morjim (featuring DJ Manu Ferrantini from Paris, Asa Maryfrom Lisbon, and DUNG from Berlin); Goa Sunrise festival at the Nyex Beach Club in Anjuna; Krank Goa at outdoor beach club Chronicle in Vagator; The Grid Festival at Marbela Beach; Anjunadeep, a 12-hour day and night party at Waters in Vagator; The Deaf Party at GURU Bar & Restaurant, Anjuna beach; the Silent Noise beach party at Palolem beach; the HillTop Goa New Year’s Eve party in Vagator (featuring Swiss performers AJJA, Tristan from the UK, Derango from Sweden, Electric Universe from Germany, Illumination and Vertical Mode from Israel and many others).