Christmas in India: Customs and traditions

Even though Christians make up only 2.3 percent of India’s population, Christmas is a state holiday observed in all Indian territories. However, it is most widely celebrated in areas where there is a large Christian population, such as the northeastern states of Nagaland and Meghalaya, and Goa in the west. Christmas is also being increasingly celebrated as a secular holiday by non-Christian Indians.

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Indian Christians start preparing for Christmas Day on Advent Sunday. They decorate their homes with festive lights, star-shaped paper lanterns, poinsettia flowers, and elaborate nativity scenes, which are often called “Christmas cribs.” Some families place a small oil-burning lamp on the roofs of their houses to symbolize the light of Christ. Many non-Christian Indian families and businesses get in the fun by decorating their homes and establishments with sparkling lights and Christmas decorations.

Christmas trees in India are usually artificial trees or local trees such as banana or mango. They are decorated in much the same way as pine trees are decorated for Christmas in other parts of the world: With baubles, Christmas lights, and tinsel. Some families also use mango leaves as Christmas decorations.

In some places, like Goa, people go door-to-door to sing carols in the week before Christmas. Sharing sweets and fruitcake are also a much-beloved tradition.

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In India, like in other places around the world, cooking for the Christmas meal is an all-day affair that starts at morning and culminates in a great feast on Christmas Eve. Roast chicken or turkey is a popular main course, as are Biryani with lamb or chicken, and curries. Desserts can include Christmas fruitcake, as well as traditional Indian sweets such as Bebica, a soft pudding originating from Goa. Some families, particularly Catholics from Goa, serve pork dishes such as pork vindaloo on Christmas Eve.

After the Christmas meal, Christian families head to church for Midnight Mass.

On Christmas morning, some Indian families give each other gifts. However, most prefer to visit their friends and neighbors to gift them with sweets and to wish them a Merry Christmas.

For more discussions on Christmas traditions in India, follow this Cox and Kings Global Services Twitter account.

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