Although the general population of India is around 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.5% Christian & 2% Sikh, Christmas, while a Christian celebration, is widely celebrated throughout India. Over the years it has become more popular within the country. There are regions that have higher percentages of Christian populations where Christmas is recognized as a pivotal event in their faith, but most of the major cities and states throughout India, including Goa, Bangalore, Kolkata, & Mumbai have embraced Christmas as a holiday that promotes time with loved ones and joyful celebrations. If you travel to any of these larger areas you will find Christmas lights and decorations in the local hotels and malls.
Among the Christian population of India, the vast majority is Roman Catholic, so along with traditional nativity scenes - called “Christmas cribs” - being widely displayed, it is also tradition to decorate “the Mother Mary grotto” that can be found in many Indian homes. They also share the same tradition of decorating “Christmas Trees”, however that might not look like the image that first pops into your head when you imagine a North American Christmas Tree. Mango & Banana trees are often decorated with traditional “christmas tree” baubles and balls in honor of the holiday.
Just like in the West, families have many traditions that they participate in on Christmas. In addition to decorating the Christmas Tree of their choice, many families decorate their homes with strands of mango or banana leaves. These leaves are used, not just because they are readily available, but also because Mango Trees are considered sacred, therefore their leaves are used for special occasions. Paper Christmas Star Lanterns are an extremely popular staple among Indian Christmas decorations (paper stars are also highlighted in the celebration of Diwali). Some say they are simply beautiful decorations that make homes and streets more festive, other say they are reminders of how the Wise Men followed the star to find Jesus.
This month’s Mystery Letter was Christmas themed, and the hands on craft was paper stars! If you want to order your own paper star kits, you can find them on Amazon: (click on the images for a link)
Once the homes are decorated, families can move on to other traditions that make Christmas special for them.
There are more than 20 million Catholics in India, which makes the Catholic Church the largest Christian church in India. Many will attend Midnight Mass on Christmas. Churches are decorated with poinsettias and candles, and once service ends, families will return home to enjoy a Christmas feast with loved ones.
After all of the preparing, decorating, and Midnight Mass, it’s time to be with friends and family, exchange gifts - some families even receive presents from Father Christmas, who is sometimes called “Christmas Baba.” You can expect to find a lot of food, but, some favorites are: biriyani (a rice & meat dish), kheer (a pudding or porridge), neureos (small, fried pastries stuffed with dried fruit & coconut), dodol (similar to toffee), and Christmas cake. Christmas Cake is a very traditional desert served at Christmas time India, probably a tradition picked up from the British, and is very similar to Fruit Cake, Christmas Cake is made with dry fruits soaked in alcohol/ orange juice for at least 24 hours (but the longer, the better!).
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays whatever part of the world you may be celebrating in!