We all know how we spend Christmas time in our western traditional way. Christmas tree, gingerbread cookies, church bells and warm family christmas dinner are to western worls all familiar. But did you ever wonder what tradition they have in India for Christmas? Here we are sharing a story from Alex, travel blogger, who is describing this Indian magic winter spirit.
It’s Christmas in Kolkata!
Every inch of the Anglo-Indian Barracks neighbourhood of Kolkata is smothered in Christmas. Strands of lights weave a web above my head, and the appropriately red walls of the brick houses are lined with Christmas banners and décor.
Women in sparkling saris usher tiny children bundled in puffy winter clothes through the crowd. Girls in LED devil horns and bunny ears take duckface selfies in front of a three meter tall Christmas tree. Dozens of people armed with massive cameras and lenses stalk the crowd on a photographic holiday hunt.
Jingle Bell Rock, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, an upbeat remix of Silent Night; the soundtrack blasting from the very tired speakers could rival any American shopping mall during the holiday season. I laugh along to the chorus of Feliz Navidad in disbelief as I watch a mother and son examine a street vendor’s selection of plastic toys and masks.
Everyone told me Kolkata was the place to be for Christmas, and it turns out they were right.
Christmas in Kolkata is like no other
You see, when it comes to celebrations, Indians never disappoint. From dangerously explosive Diwali to boisterous multi-day weddings to the drunken debauchery of Holi, when a party is in order, Indians take the metaphorical bull by the horns and celebrate in style.
Christmas in Kolkata is no exception.
The holiday originated in a religious and more family-oriented form. Thanks to its history as the capital of the British Raj and concerted efforts by Christian missionaries—Mother Theresa being the most famous example—Kolkata is home to a notable Bengali Christian population. In 2011 there were around 40,000 Christians living in Kolkata, and many are quite active in their communities.
But that’s not to say that Christmas in Kolkata is a predominantly Christian affair. In 2010, the chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Bannerjee, decided to kick Christmas celebrations up a notch in the hopes of attracting more attention and tourism. Now, true to Indian form, people of all backgrounds in Kolkata gear up for Christmas. (It helps that street celebrations mirror the modern day Christmas of films and television.) All are welcome to partake in—or profit from—the celebrations. And oh what a curious sight it makes.
A holiday melting pot
A distraught plastic Santa Claus towers over the carnival-like atmosphere of New Market, Spiderman curiously lurking on a tower behind him.
A Parsi woman haggles with a man over some hair accessories under the glow of neon strobe lights and the all-seeing looks of the two idols.
Amongst the clustered shops and halls of Hogg Market, an infinite line of people snake around the Jewish bakery Nahoum & Sons to buy Christmas fruitcakes for families and friends.
Roaming through the knickknack and party favours shops on Mirza Ghalib Street, an explosion of glittering Christmas decorations overwhelm my retinas as Top 40 Christmas Hits lists besiege my eardrums. Looking into one of the shops, I notice an old man in kurta pyjama and prayer cap peddling tinsel garlands.
Everyone comes together to explore Park Street in the days around Christmas and New Year’s. Girls in hijab cluster to take selfies in front of a wintry display, complete with fluffy fake snow and disproportional reindeer. Hindu families line up outside hip restaurants for their Christmas Day luncheon. Turbaned Sikh boys snap photos of each other in front of flashing light displays. Drivers of all religions and races honk their horns in frustration, equally stuck in Park Street’s congestion underneath a flashing “CHRISTMAS” sign that, appropriately enough, often flashes just “HIT”.
It is madness, it is chaos, it is Indian. Welcome to Christmas in Kolkata.