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A Christmas for all Indians

A note on our Indian Christmas special

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

Friends gathered around a decorated tree, tables laden with food, and strains of soft carols—this is usually the image that comes to mind when one thinks of Christmas. The festival in India, however, has many more layers. Scratch the surface, and innumerable regional and local traditions come to the fore.

If Kolkata’s Anglo-Indian Bow Barracks neighbourhood continues the tradition of colonial-era musical soirées, Kerala offers the lore of the Pappanji effigy—the equivalent of Santa Claus at the Kochi Carnival—and Tamil Nadu, a statue of the Virgin Mary dressed in Kanjeevaram silks.

These narratives, which present a picture of syncretism, become even more important at a time when the country is in the grip of protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. We are seeing powerful images emerge across cities—of artists registering their protest through song and dance at the Latasil Ground in Guwahati, or people handing out roses to Delhi Police officials. In a way, the plurality underlying the protests, united by a common cause, is what defines the Indian sociocultural fabric.

When we were planning a Christmas special, we were determined to go scouting for regional elements that make up the tapestry of Christmas across India.

There are stories about how Christian iconography has been interpreted by Indian artists over the years—from showing Mother Mary clad in a sari to painting Jesus Christ in a rural setting—and the way in which the story of Genesis has seeped into the Santhal tribe’s Creation myth. We look at original Christmas compositions in the Sadri, Mundari, Garo and Khasi languages and find that the sound of Christmas in India is gloriously multilingual.

If you are looking for a feel-good gifting option, Shrujan, a Kutch-based craft organization, is offering hand-embroidered pieces to help women artisans. As a hat tip to the giving spirit, we also look at the service provided by charitable trust Khalsa Aid India during protests at India Gate and Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi—transcending the realms of faith, religion and community.

So, let this Christmas unite in a common spirit of sharing and caring. As Stevie Wonder crooned in a song from 1967: Someday at Christmas there’ll be no tears. All men are equal and no men have fears. One shining moment, one prayer away. From our world today….

—Avantika Bhuyan

Christmas Special issue editor

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