Compared to other religious festivals, Christmas is quite a small festival in India, due to the number of people who are Christians (about 2.3%) compared to people who belong to other religions. Having said this, the population of India is over 1 Billion, so there are over 25 million Christians in India!
One of the largest Indian Christian Communities in a city is in Mumbai. A lot of the Christians in Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) are Roman Catholics. In India’s smallest state, Goa which is on the west of India, about 26% of people are Christians. Many of the Christians in Mumbai came from or have roots in Goa. The states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram (all on the very east of India) have high populations of Christians as well.
Midnight mass is a very important service for Christians in India, especially Catholics. The whole family will walk to the mass and this will be followed by a massive feast of different delicacies, (mostly curries) and the giving and receiving of presents. Churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service.
Many different languages are spoken in India. In Hindi Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Śubh krisamas’ (शुभ क्रिसमस); Urdu it’s ‘krismas mubarak’ (کرسمس); in Sanskrit it’s ‘Krismasasya shubhkaamnaa’; in Gujarati it’s ‘Anandi Natal’ or ‘Khushi Natal’ (આનંદી નાતાલ); in Bengali ‘shubho bôṛodin’ (শুভ বড়দিন); in Tamil it’s ‘kiṟistumas vāḻttukkaḷ’ (கிறிஸ்துமஸ் வாழ்த்துக்கள்); in Konkani it’s ‘Khushal Borit Natala’; in Kannada it’s ‘kris mas habbada shubhaashayagalu’ (ಕ್ರಿಸ್ ಮಸ್ ಹಬ್ಬದ ಶುಭಾಷಯಗಳು); in Mizo it’s ‘Krismas Chibai’; in Marathi it’s ‘Śubh Nātāḷ’ (शुभ नाताळ); in Punjabi it’s ‘karisama te nawāṃ sāla khušayāṃwālā hewe’ (ਕਰਿਸਮ ਤੇ ਨਵਾੰ ਸਾਲ ਖੁਸ਼ਿਯਾੰਵਾਲਾ ਹੋਵੇ); in Malayalam it’s ‘Christmas inte mangalaashamsakal’; in Telugu it’s ‘Christmas Subhakankshalu’ and in Shindi it’s ‘Christmas jun wadhayun’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
Instead of having traditional Christmas Trees, a banana or mango tree is decorated (or whatever tree people can find to decorate!). Sometimes people use mango leaves to decorate their homes.
In Southern India, Christians often put small oil burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes to show their neighbors that Jesus is the light of the world.
Christians in Goa love to celebrate Christmas! Goa has lots of ‘western’ customs as part of their Christmas as Goa has historical connections with Portugal. Most Christians in Goa are Catholics. People like to go carol singing around their neighbors for about a week before Christmas. Christmas Trees are also very popular as is a ‘traditional’ rich fruit Christmas Cake! Lots of local sweets are also eaten at Christmas in Goa. Favourite sweets include neureos (small pastries which are stuffed with dry fruit and coconut and fried) and dodol (like toffee that has coconut and cashew in it). These are other sweets are often part of ‘consuada‘ when people make sweets before Christmas and give them to their friends and neighbors. Most Christian families also have a nativity scene with clay figures in it.
On Christmas Eve, Christians in Goa hang out giant paper lanterns, in the shape of stars, between the houses so that the stars float above you as you walk down the road. The main Christmas meal is also eaten on Christmas Eve and is also ‘western’ with roast turkey or chicken being popular. After the meal, Christians head to Church for a Midnight mass service. After the service, the church bells ring to announce that Christmas Day has arrived. Many Christians in Goa also celebrate Epiphany and remember the Wise Men visiting Jesus.
Christians in Mumbai use many Christmas traditions from Goa including the star lanterns and manger scenes (people like to make sure they have the best the nativity scene!).
In north-west India, the tribal Christians of the Bhil folk, go out night after night for a week at Christmas to sing their own carols the whole night through. They go to surrounding villages singing to people and telling the Christmas story.
In South West India, in the state of Kerala Were, 22% of the state’s 33 Million population are Christians and Christmas is an important festival. Traditional Catholics fast don’t eat from 1st to 24th of December – until the midnight service. Every house will be decorated with a Christmas star. During the start of the Christmas season, almost all the stationary shops will be filled with new and variety Christmas stars. People make cribs in their homes and Churches.
In India, Father Christmas or Santa Claus delivers presents to children from a horse and cart. He’s known as ‘Christmas Baba’ in Hindi, ‘Baba Christmas’ in Urdu (both of those mean Father Christmas); ‘Christmas Thaathaa’ in Tamil and ‘Christmas Thatha’ in Telugu (both of those mean Christmas old man); and ‘Natal Bua’ (Christmas Elder Man) in Marathi. In Kerala state, he’s known as ‘Christmas Papa’.