Christmas, the birthday of Lord Jesus, is celebrated on December 25 every year. Although Christians make up less than 5% of India's population, Christmas is a significant occasion in India. It has become quite commercialized these days, with people of all religions joining in the festivities. You'll be able to find traditional Christmas cheer in many parts of the country.
How is Christmas Celebrated in India
Food, glorious food. Christmas in India is definitely all about eating! International luxury hotels serve up a vast Christmas buffets with all the favorites: roast meat (including turkey), roast vegetables, and deserts to die for. Most hotels in India will hold a special Christmas dinner of some description but it may have more of an Indian flavor to it.
Catholic-dominated areas in India will be decorated for the occasion. Churches also hold Christmas services, including Midnight Mass.
Where to Celebrate Christmas in India
Goa, with its large Catholic population, is one of the best places to have a traditional Christmas in India -- Indian style! Its many beautiful old Portuguese-style churches overflow with people and Christmas cheer. Christmas carols are sung and many of the churches hold Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Christmas decorations adorn houses, streets, and market places. Don't miss admiring the lit-up Gothic facade of Mae de Deus church in North Goa's Saligao village. Do note that public Christmas celebrations in Goa may be curtailed this year due the Covid-19 pandemic. Churches will be open as usual though.
The Fontainhas Latin Quarter in Pajim is an outstanding place to enjoy Christmas celebrations. Make It Happen is conducting a Christmas Evening Walk in Fontainhas daily at 6 p.m. from December 24, 2020 to January 1, 2021. There's a special Christmas feast and brass band.
Kolkata is also renowned for its Christmas celebrations. Park Street is beautifully illuminated with strings of lights and other decorations. Flurys bakes sumptuous Christmas cakes and their special Christmas menu offers a variety of Christmas treats. The Kolkata Christmas Festival, organized in conjunction with West Bengal Tourism, is an added attraction. It dominates Park Street with food and culture stalls, Christmas carols, and choirs. Bands and choir groups perform on stage at Allen Park on Park Street. In 2020, the festival will held from December 21-23. The highlight is a Christmas parade on Park Street.
Head to Kolkata's magnificent Saint Paul's Cathedral, with its Gothic Revival architecture, for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. This important historic church is located at the southern end of the Maidan, near Victoria Memorial, and was opened in 1847. It will also be illuminated for the occasion and have a festive feel. The cathedral is open to the public until 4 p.m. on Christmas Day. Do note that only church members will be allowed to attend Midnight Mass this year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The church is open to the public at other times.
For a memorable community Christmas celebration in Kolkata, don't miss visiting Bow Barracks (just off Central Avenue) where most of the city's Anglo-Indians live. Special Christmas events take place from December 23 until New Year's Eve. The grand event on December 23 features the best-known Anglo-Indian singers, bands, and musicians in Kolkata. Hundreds of people dance on the street until after midnight and everyone is welcome. Calcutta Photo Tours runs a fascinating walking tour through this area. Do note that although Bow Barracks will be decorated there won't be a public Christmas celebration this year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mumbai is another popular place to have a traditional Christmas. The western suburb of Bandra is predominantly Catholic, but you'll also find churches all over the city. These Mumbai churches with Midnight Mass are the most well-known ones. Notably, Saint Thomas's Cathedral celebrated its 300th anniversary on Christmas Day in 2018, and it was recently reopened after a full architectural restoration. Bandra's Hill Road also wears a festive look full of Christmas decorations and bakeries overflow with Christmas goodies. Try and catch the annual community "Carols on Convent Road" in Bandra West, organized by local residents. Do note that Midnight Mass won't be held at churches in Mumbai this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Christmas services will take place earlier on Christmas Eve, concluding by 10 p.m., and on Christmas Day. However, the number of attendees will be restricted.
Quaint 200 year-old Matharpacady village, tucked away in the lanes of Mazgaon, is another place where Christmas is enthusiastically celebrated in Mumbai. This East Indian Catholic village is beautifully decorated for the occasion, and illuminated in the evenings. Boutique travel company No Footprints is conducting an evening heritage walk through Matharpacady village on December 26, 2020, commencing at 5.30 p.m. The walk finishes with a visit to the guide's ancestral home to sample Christmas treats. Tickets can be booked online here. Khaki Tours is also holding a heritage walk through Matharpacady village on December 25, at 5 p.m.
In addition to the Matharpacady walk, Khaki Tours is running a two-hour open-top jeep urban safari through the lanes of Bandra on December 26, 2020, departing at 5 p.m. Plus, an evening heritage walking tour of Bandra's Chuim village on December 27, 2020, at 5 p.m.
In Delhi, the most popular Midnight Mass takes place at Sacred Heart Cathedral at Connaught Place. The whole Connaught Place area buzzes during Christmas, as well as the week leading up to it. There are Christmas decorations and lights, food stalls, and other street vendors. Do note that Midnight Mass will not be held this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The church will be closed to visitors from the afternoon of December 24 and throughout Christmas Day on December 25, 2020.
In Kerala, Christmas coincides with the Cochin Carnival in Fort Kochi. The carnival concludes with the burning of a massive Santa effigy at midnight on New Year's Eve (yes, really, it's locally called Pappanji) and a huge street procession on New Year's Day. Pappanji was introduced as part of the Cochin Carnival in 1984 as a tribute to the city's Portuguese heritage. It's a Portuguese word meaning "grandpa", and some say the effigy is actually an old man and not Santa. The burning of Pappanji represents the destruction of evil, and new beginnings. You can see the effigy on display at the Parade Ground in Fort Kochi on December 30. Do note that the Cochin Carnival and burning of Pappanji will not take place this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Spend Christmas the European way at the former French colony of Pondicherry. Choirs perform concerts on the promenade in the lead up to Christmas Eve, a Christmas market takes place at the French International School with stalls selling mulled wine and traditional yule log cakes, and a French-themed Christmas service is held at the Eglise Notre Dame des Anges (Our Lady of Angels Church) in the French Quarter.
Elsewhere in India
In addition, Christmas is widely celebrated by the substantial Christian population in India's remote northeast region (head to Shillong in Meghalaya, Kohima in Nagaland, or Aizwal in Mizoram), as well as other south Indian cities such as Bangalore and Chennai. The Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians in Shillong is famous for its Midnight Mass with choir on Christmas Eve.
Where NOT to Celebrate Christmas in India
Feeling like the Christmas Grinch and don't want to celebrate Christmas? Minimal Christmas festivities take place in central and north India, as there are very few Christians there.