Festival of the month: how India celebrates Christmas

Sprakling Christmas decorations.
Image courtesy: Shweta Andrews


Old Bandra, or Bandra Village as it is called, was originally the retreat of the Sahibs. The beautiful (some, crumbling) bungalows are proof of the colonial past. This was the time when Bombay was still a collection of islands and the city pretty much ended at Mahim. Bandra was that place where you went to for some ‘away’ time. Much changed, it is now a hip suburb but the spirit of Christmas and sahibs still remains. It is home to the most creative graffiti, quaint bungalows and roadside crosses. There is a bakery around every bend and you can also pop into someone’s house and end up with some cake. A walk down Hill Road and Chapel Road is a must for you to soak in the festive air. And then there is the stretch that leads to Mount Mary – walk up the beautifully lit-up steps to the church to be in time for Christmas carols.


A bustling Christmas market at Bara Tooti Chowk, Sadar Bazaar.
Image courtesy: Shweta Andrews

Delhi: Haleem, biryani, mosques and trousseau shopping are things that come to the mind when we think of Old Delhi. What many of us don’t know about this charming slice of the capital is its secular heart. Surrounded by the Old City walls, Sadar Bazaar is the largest wholesale and retail market for household items in Delhi. This busy and frenzied market is the best place to buy Christmas decorations, which can be reused year after year – from stars to wreaths, colourful baubles and silver bells, Christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes. Make your way through the narrow lanes of this bustling market. The easiest way to reach the market is via the Delhi metro (Chawri Bazaar station) from where you can take a rickshaw to Bara Tooti Chowk. You may not find muffins, brownies and Christmas puddings here, but there are hot gulab jamuns to satiate sugary cravings.

Goa: Sun, surf, sand, fish, feni…Anyone who loves Goa would have you think that life is one big party, a party that doesn’t stop. The energy of this year-long party gets stronger by the minute as the calendar approaches the Christmas week. From the sands, the focus shifts to the little villages, chapels, church squares and by-lanes. Goans pray hard – go to any church or chapel on Christmas Eve and the sheer number of people at the mass substantiate that claim – and party even harder. And the celebration takes to the streets. The midnight mass is immediately followed by street dancing, which goes on till the crack of dawn. The Panjim Church square is where the most colourful street party is held. The silken gowns, tuxedos, dancing shoes and wine are in abundance. And the band plays like there’s no tomorrow!

St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata.
Image courtesy: Creative Commons

Kolkata: The ‘silent, holy night’ is one of the most magical in the City of Joy, the first capital of British India. Maybe this umbilical connection explains Kolkata’s obsession for ‘Borodin’ or Christmas. Even the humblest citizen will go home with a cake on Christmas while the more affluent will indulge in homemade wine (of rice, grape or raisin varieties). A drive or walk down Park Street, the city’s beloved food and entertainment hub, is a ritual. The illuminations may lead you to believe that you are in England. Take a left from Park Street and you end up in New Market. There is nothing ‘new’ about New Market and that’s what the city loves about this sprawling British-style red-brick building. The queue outside Nahoum’s, a confectionery set up in 1902 by a Jew who came from Baghdad, tells you volumes about its rich plum cake, Yule logs and nougatines. And then there’s the midnight mass at St Paul’s Cathedral in Maidan. Queue up early.

Christmas cake.
Image courtesy: sxc.hu/subhadipin

Shillong: Ever wondered why all those music bands from Shillong play the coolest music? That’s because they live the coolest life up in these hills, which clearly reflects in their compositions. A clement climate, a vibrant and strikingly fashionable popular culture, a repertoire of delectable tribal cuisines and the public inclination to favour a hearty drinking session combine to make Shillong the chill capital of the country.
The lanes of Shillong come alive with the sound of music at least a month before Christmas. The choirs in this part of the country are arguably the best. And after soulful music, there’s flavourful food. The most popular dish is dohneiiong, a pork dish made with black sesame paste. It is usually eaten with rice or rice pancakes. Minced beef cutlets are the other seasonal highlight. And there’s plenty of wine, rum and brandy. No point trying to be sober here, because even the harmless tutti frutti cake has ingredients dunked in rum and brandy.

Chennai: Think again if you feel that Chennai is all about temples, Carnatic music, gunpowder and idlis, and rustling silks. The city is home to 500 years of church architecture that offers amazing variety. During Christmas the churches come alive with hope, song and prayer and are worth a heritage walk. Our favourites include the quiet St Mary’s Church within Fort St George, St Andrew’s Kirk Church on Poonamalee High Rd, St George’s Cathedral on Nungambakkam Road and St Thomas Church in Santhome. Don’t miss the cakes and treats at McRennett, especially the plum pudding cake and the attractive marzipan treats for kids. The century old Madras Musical Association’s choir is another highlight that die-hard Chennaities don’t miss.