India is situated in Southern Asia, bordering the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between Burma (Myanmar) and Pakistan. Although India's population is overwhelmingly Hindu and Moslem, modern global communications have given Christmas a major foothold in the culture where Christians make up just 2.3% of the population. Still, that adds up to more than 26 million Christians in the country where the population is over 1 billion.

In the large cities of India caroling processions are seen on streets and thoroughfares. Father Christmas is also seen in some shopping districts and there are department stores that have Father Christmas to entertain the children. The bigger cities like Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta wear a festive look as Christmas bazaars and markets are organized while stores offer special bargains for shoppers.

The Christians in India observe Christmas as a religious holiday when families go to church and then gather for a Christmas dinner.

The observance is varied in different parts of the country. In some areas, there are lights decorating the outside of the house and yards, but if the neighborhood is strictly non-Christian, you may not find too much in the way of outdoor decorations.

In Southern India, small clay oil-burning lamps are used as Christmas decorations; they are placed on the edges of flat roofs and on the tops of walls.

In Northwest India the tribal Christians of the Bhil people go out every night during the Christmas season to sing their special carols the whole night through. They visit surrounding villages singing to the residents and telling the Christmas story.

Bombay has one of the largest Christian communities in India, the majority being Roman Catholic. Many homes in Bombay have a crèche displayed in the front window. There is a great sense of pride in creating a beautiful Nativity scene and people walk through the neighborhood to admire the handiwork of their friends and neighbors. You will also find floating stars decorating some neighborhoods. They are giant paper lanterns, lit from within, in the shape of stars that are hung between the houses. It seems as if these stars float above you as you walk down the street.

Artificial Christmas trees are found in some homes while others decorate the main room with a mango tree or banana plant trimmed with ornaments and garlands.

The church service is held at midnight and it can last from two to three hours with hundreds of communicants and many children all massed together on the floor. Churches are decorated with poinsettias and lit with candles.

The British influence from the days before India gained independence has resulted in gift-giving during the Christmas season and dispensing baksheesh (charitable handouts) to poor people of the country.

The Christmas dinner may be turkey or chicken served with curried rice and vegetables. Also popular is a pork dish, Vindaloo, which is served with a rice dish that contains slivered almonds and raisins. In some homes, a homemade ginger wine is served on this occasion.

Every household makes sure that they have a large supply of homemade sweets ready to serve to an on-going procession of visitors. Special pastries, Kulkul, Laadu, Chaklyo, and Nevryo, are served. These are made with dough that is tinted red or pink.

Hotels serve a lavish dinner and on the buffet you would find turkey, chicken, duck, lamb and seafood. They would be prepared with Indian spices. You would also find a wide variety of vegetarian dishes along with Indian bread (roti).

As in most places in the world, the celebration of Christmas in India has always been, and continues to be, a time to spend golden moments with friends and relatives.

Music: O Come All Ye Faithful

© 2002-05 by W. C. Egan

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