Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see" —The Polar Express (2004)
While this line from one of our favourite Christmas movies of all time really sums up the magic of Yuletide, there’s something about the festivities of this season that demands all our senses be at their optimal best. How else can we fully appreciate the heady aroma of warm mulled wine and hot-out-of-the-oven gingerbread? Or, marvel at the visual brilliance of the lit-up Gothic façade of the Mae de Deus church in the Goan village of Saligao?
During Christmas, the diversity of the land is on ample display for all to experience—from a traditional Kerala-style Christmas parade led by caparisoned elephants down Kochi’s streets to a formal black-tie Yuletide Ball in Bengaluru.
We have curated a list of places, events and things to do around India this Christmas season that are open to all those seeking some festive magic.
BENGALURU Easy-going Bengaluru lends a truly cosmopolitan flair to Christmas festivities. There’s a Christmas Bazaar (above) with pop-up stalls and a jive-dancing boot camp organized by co-working space The Bohemian House in Richmond Town. The 1844-built St Patrick’s Church in Ashok Nagar is famous for a well-attended midnight mass, the highlights being the nativity hymns by the choir. It features a themed crib every year, while the church is decorated by its parishioners. And All Saints Bakery, in close proximity to the church, offers a smorgasbord of Christmas goodies for sale.
(Photo: Getty Images)
SHILLONG Christmas celebrations in Meghalaya’s capital city, informally referred to as “The Music Heartland of India”, pivot on a melodious axis. The Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians is famous for its Christmas eve midnight mass, where choral groups such as the renowned Shillong Chamber Choir (below) perform. Equally popular and well-attended is the annual Christmas concert at the Tura Baptist Church, traditionally held before the church’s midnight service on 24 December. For a more laidback Yuletide celebration, try Café Shillong in Laitumkhrah, where music legends like Lou Majaw belt out carols, often fusing them with rock ‘n’ roll and R&B for a unique spin.
(Photo: Getty Images)
KOLKATA From the Christmas dioramas that line Park Street to the midnight mass at St Paul’s Cathedral, the City of Joy pulls out all the stops. This year, join the “Christmas in Kolkata Heritage Tour” on 22 December, from 2pm. The 4-hour-long tour organized by LetUsGo ( ₹1,699 per person) will start at the Saldanha Bakery in Esplanade, which has been around since 1930, for a spot of cake making and continue to landmarks like Nahoum & Sons (above) in New Market. Stopping en route to meet a few of the remaining residents at Bow Barracks, the bastion of Anglo-Indian life in the city, the tour will end at Allen Park
MUMBAI Though the city does things a little differently, the traditional midnight mass at popular churches such as Mount Mary Church in Bandra (above) and Colaba’s Cathedral of the Holy Name, legendary for its choir, is unmissable. It has scores of Christmas flea markets, such as the one held by the Bandra Gymkhana on its lawns. Delicacies like fugiyas and sorpotel and hand-made Christmas decorations are available. Pushing the Yuletide envelope a little further is the annual X’Mas Sail held by Jack and Hill Adventures on 25 December, from 4pm.
GOA It’s said Goans don’t need a reason (or season!) to have a good time. Midnight mass at the Basilica of Bom Jesus is an elaborate affair, with a traditional high mass beginning at 10pm on Christmas eve. For some visual brilliance, visit the Mae de Deus church in Saligao. Or head to the north Goa beaches of Anjuna and Arambol, known for their Christmas eve fireworks and all-night beach parties. Cultural institutes like the Clube Harmonia de Margao and The Emerald Lawns in Parra are famous for dances with live bands and fado performances. If you wish to indulge in a spot of shopping, visit the Mapusa market.
KOCHI Santa Claus might be the de facto symbol of Yuletide but he can’t hold a candle to Pappanji (left), his equivalent at the Cochin Carnival. So popular is the character, who gets his name from the Portuguese-Malayalam slang word for “old man”, that he bookends the week-long celebration from 25 December-1 January—right from the unveiling of a huge effigy at Vasco da Gama Square at the start of the Christmas fest to the burning of Pappanji at midnight on New Year’s eve. A number of sporting competitions and boat races are held alongside art shows and food festivals through the fest.
(Photo: Facebook.com/Kochi Konnect)