The rainbow of cultural diversity has been one of the biggest assets of India as a holiday destination is richly evident in the many faiths that have flourished in this land down the ages. Christianity was first introduced to India in 52 CE by Jesus Christ’ s apostle Thomas, now revered as St Thomas, when he stepped off the ship on the Malabar coast, in what is the state of Kerala today. He is believed to have established seven congregations to establish the roots of the Christianity in this new land he came to preach his faith. In 888 CE Anglo-Saxons bishops sent by King Alfred visit the tomb of St. Thaxomas in Mylapore (Chennai) in Tamil Nadu, where the saint was martyred. It was in the 18th century, with the arrival of the Portuguese, that the Christian faith was propagated aggressively amongst the local populace and later spread across the country under British rule. Christmas, which pays homage to the birth of Jesus Christ is now celebrated on December 25 every year in many parts of India. Although Christians make up less than 5% of India's population, the festival is no longer confined to those of the Chrisstian faith is joyfully looked forward to by people of many faiths. Here are the 5 best places to be for Christmas in India.
The sunny state of Goa has long been the homing ground for Christmastime vacationers. With its vast Catholic population and 400 churches, Goa pulls out all the stops for celebrating Christmas in the most traditional way. The churches from Portuguese times are a huge magnet for the devout as well as the stream of Christmas revellers. On Christmas Eve the Midnight Mass, of course, being the biggest draw on this special day. Be there at the Basilica of Bom Jesus–one of the oldest churches in India. Hymns and carol singing, church bells ringing, fireworks, gift exchanging and feasting are all the attendant features of the bonhomie that mark this joyful time. Sparkling fairy lights, lanterns and buntings adorn homes and marketplaces, adding to the festive air. For their beautiful illuminations, check out Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and Se Cathedral which are amongst the more popular Christmas time venues. Unmissable places to enjoy the celebrations are Old Goa with its beautiful churches and the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas in Panjim. Head for beaches like Arambol, Calangute and Vagator for the impressive fireworks.
Another huge post-colonial hub (this time British) Kolkata still holds fast to its Christmas traditions from midnight mass, to carol singing, Christmas plum puddings and cakes and merrymaking; an unmissable treat is Flury’s special Christmas menu. The bright lights of Park Street and the Christmas parade are a huge draw; for Midnight Mass head for the beautifully lighted up Saint Paul's Cathedral, an architectural marvel of the Gothic Revival period. With its mass of homes of Kolkata’s Anglo-Indian community, Bow Barracks is a-bustle with fairy lights and Christmas revelry with bands and choirs and dancing in attendance to the festivities.
Mumbai always welcomes the annual Christmas revelry with warm embraces from people of all faiths,Road which is lit up beautifully, complete with decorative Christmas trees to the delight of the great throngs which descend here to share the Christmas spirit with friends and family. Midnight Mass brings a huge gathering to the lovely Saint Thomas's Cathedral. Wend your way to quirky lanes of Matharpacady with its colonial era heritage houses in Mazagaon to witness the traditional Christmas festivities of this East Indian Catholic village.
Christmas cheer is truly catching in this state capital of Tamil Nadu, where in the early days of Christianity St Thomas, the Palestinian Jew of the Roman Empire arrived from Kerala to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ. ‘Doubting Thomas’, as he was also known before he was convinced of Christ rising from the dead, was one of the most vigorous proponents of the Gospel. In fact, it was some envious Brahmin priests who turned out to be the cause of his martyrdom in Chennai’s Mylapore district, because he was so successful in turning many locals into the Christian faith. In 1293 legendary traveller Marco Polo, during his sojourn in the Coromandel Coast,shared how the tomb of St. Thomas was a place of pilgrimage. A visit to attend the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at the Santhome Church in Mylapore, in Chennai, serves as a sturdy reminder of Chennai’s links with its Christian roots. Other places to be where the Christmas spirit will enthral you are St. Andrew's Church for its amazing carol singing and the Marina Beach for its frantic celebrations by throngs of revellers.
The post-colonial hub of the French, Pondicherry, still offers vestiges of its lively past at Christmas time. One of the places you must visit is the Eglise Notre Dame des Anges in this seaside town on the legendary Coromandel Coast in Southeast India. Now better known as Our Lady of Angels Church this sacred spot is in the ‘French Quarter’. Join the gathering of locals at the beautiful Christmas service held here each year. Around town there are other places which will grab your attention for their Christmas cheer such as the attractively illuminated Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Church of the Assumption, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the Church of Our Lady of Good Health. The festive atmospherics of Mission Street, the bustling pop-up Christmas bazaars, choir performances, the beachside Christmas concerts overlooking the Bay of Bengal, and yummy eats on display at the patisseries are other allurements. An unmissable experience is the annual Christmas time Christmas Market or the Marche de Noel.
You could also check out the Christmas spirit of Shillong in Meghalaya state, which has a sizeable Christian community. The Shillong choir is famous worldwide for its beautiful hymn singing. Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians is a must do; a welcome bonus is the choir singing! In Bangalore, bakers are busy night and day to keep Christmas puddings and plum cakes ready to be demolished by the growing crowds. The churches, such as St Patrick’s Church on Brigade Road, are all lit up and filled to bursting on Christmas Eve for the traditional Midnight Mass.