Despite being considered a Christian celebration, non-Christian communities across India have begun warmly embracing secular Christmas traditions in recent years, introducing their own unique twists on the festivities. In fact, it has become so popular that they now affectionately call it ‘Bada Din’, meaning ‘Big Day’
Festivals, fireworks and a horse-drawn Santa Claus, these are some of India’s favorite festive traditions.
Listen out for Santa’s horse-drawn cart
In India, Santa Claus is also known by various endearing names such as Christmas Baba, Christmas Taathaa or Natal Bua, depending on where in the country you are. Here, he forgoes his usual reindeer-drawn sleigh, opting instead for an, often colorfully decorated, horse-drawn cart laden with gifts for children.
color, light and nature as Christmas decor
When the festive season falls, homes across the country become tapestries of vibrant Christmas decorations and glowing lights. Mango leave dangle gracefully from doorways and windows, adding a touch a nature to the festivities, while the classic pine tree is replaced by verdant banana and mango trees, decorated head to toe in colorful ornaments. Across the country, floors and tabletops are covered in rangoli, the elaborate patterns made with coloured powders, flowers and rice.
Light from burning candles and dangling fairy lights emanate from the windows while in Southern India you’ll find rooftops aglow with the warmth of small oil-burning clay lamps, or diyas, often used to represent Jesus as the light of the world.
Cochin Carnival in Kerala
Kicking off with a grand procession of elaborately decorated floats and traditionally dressed performers weaving through the heart of the seaside town Fort Kochi, the Cochin Carnival is a flamboyant festive tradition annually observed during the ten days leading up to the New Year.
The festival’s itinerary is packed with beach football and volleyball, wrestling and biking competitions, lessons in Thekkoottam Kali, a traditional folk dance and much more. The Carnival’s cultural program showcases the diverse artistic traditions of the region and gives the opportunity for local artists to display their talents through dance and music.
Then, on New Year’s Eve, the festivities conclude with the burning of Pappanji, an effigy of an old man that is set alight at midnight as a symbol of the passing year. Then a huge fireworks display fills the night sky and attendees celebrate through to the morning.
Fireworks on beaches in Goa
Every year Goa, the small state on India’s southwest coast, celebrates Christmas and New Years Eve with vibrant fireworks displays and light shows. Above Anjuna Beach, the night sky comes to life with brilliant bursts of color illuminating the lapping waves and golden sands below. With other beaches such as Arambol, Calangute and Vagator also putting on their own fireworks displays, the Goan sky becomes a tapestry of light every Christmas.
Kolkata Christmas Festival
Nowhere in India does Christmas quite like Kolkata, where public spaces become adorned with twinkling lights, Christmas trees showered with ornaments are set up in the centre of squares and lively Christmas bazaars pop up around the city.
The epicenter of festive celebrations in Kolkata is the Christmas Festival that takes place on Park Street, where sparkling fairy lights, illuminated bells and bows and neon-wrapped trees light the way for revelers to get into the festive spirit. Allen Park becomes covered in installations showcasing contemporary and traditional interpretations of classic Christmas tales, and food stalls pop up to feed attendees.
Meanwhile, energetic processions featuring festive-themed floats and marching bands make their way through the city, their tanks made up of dancers and actors dressed in vivid costumes.
Image Credits: Hanging stars by Giorgina Carini © Shutterstock; Sparklers by Abie Davies © Shutterstock; Diyas by rawf8 © Shutterstock; Arambol beach fireworks by yurakrasil © Shutterstock;