In India, festivals are always celebrated with lights and colors, and Christmas is no exception. Unlike some occasions like Thanksgiving and Halloween, which India learned to celebrate more recently, the history of Christmas celebrations in India is perhaps as old as the arrival of Christianity. Granted that Hinduism is the predominant religion of India, the country also has a fairly large population of Christians.
There are over 25 million Christians in India. One of the largest Indian Christian communities resides in a big city like Mumbai. Additionally, many of the Christians live in or have roots in Goa, India’s smallest state located on the west. The states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram have substantial populations of Christians as well.
Mango Christmas Tree and Indian Santa Claus:
Like any other major holiday in India, Christmas is also celebrated with multitudes of festivities. Santa Claus, also known as “Christmas Baba, Christmas Tatha, Natal Bua, or Christmas Papa,” brings presents to children. Churches are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles. Similarly, people decorate their homes with mango leaves, star shaped lanterns, and manger scenes. They also decorate mango and banana trees instead of traditional Christmas trees to set the festive mood. In Goa, which follows lots of western customs because of its historical connections with Portugal, people like to go caroling around their neighborhoods. They also hang up giant star shaped paper lanterns between their houses, so that the stars float above as people walk down the streets. Mainly, Christmas festivities begin the night before the 25th as families attend Christmas Eve Midnight Mass together. This is followed by a massive feast.
Christmas Fruitcake and Consuadas:
At the feast, popular Christmas entrees include roast turkey or chicken. Moreover, Gujiya, which is a Holi dish, is also made for Christmas. There are two kinds – keema gujiya and sweet gujiya. In Meghalaya- doh jem (a meat preparation), putharo (steamed rice cakes), jadoh (a rice and meat preparation), and doh sniang nei-iong (a pork and sesame preparation) are notably favorites.
Christmas in India brings also brings with it a variety of desserts as well. Christmas sweets — mainly originating from Goa and adapted in the rest of the country — are traditionally called “kuswar.” They include neureos (small pastries which are stuffed with dry fruit and coconut and fried), dodol (toffee that has coconut and cashew in it), kidiyo (deep-fried curly dough balls dusted in powdered sugar), and sweet dumplings called newrio (stuffed with palm sugar, sweet grated coconut, and sesame seeds). These delicious delicacies are often part of a ‘consuada’–a Portguese word for Christmas feast–where people make sweets before Christmas and share them with their family, friends, and neighbors. Desserts also range from rose cookies to deeply delicious multi-layered Christmas fruitcakes. These traditional dense Christmas fruitcakes are an elaborate, labour-intensive process made with coconut milk and flour. Savoury banana chips, crisp chaklis (a round, deep-fried savoury made with lentils), and cardamom and cashew macaroons round up a versatile collection of Christmas goodies.
Many American Indians in the United States celebrate the holiday differently than they would in India. However, regardless of where you are, Christmas is a time for family, friends, and food. And one cannot ask for anything more than to be surrounded by tradition, love, and happiness during this most joyous of seasons.