While the greeting card idea of Christmas consists of snow, large Christmas trees and a jolly white-beardedvacati Santa Claus, celebrating this holiday in India can look very different. However, that doesn’t mean Christmas is any less fun or magical here. While most of the country celebrates Christmas with aplomb, there are definitely a few places that truly imbibe the good cheer and spirit of this global holiday. So here’s a comprehensive guide on the best places to spend your Christmas vacation in India, to truly get into the spirit of the holiday.
1. Bandra, Mumbai: While the weather in Bombay is as far away from Christmas as you can imagine, the joy, camaraderie and love for the holiday is as vibrant as ever, specifically in Bandra. While Bandra is known as the hub of Bollywood celebrities, during Christmas time, it is also known for its brilliant decor, food and shopping stalls and excellent church service. All the streets of this locality are decked up with lights, instantly putting residents in a festive mood. There are stalls selling Christmas gifts and decorations all across Hill Road and “Carols on Convent Road” is a yearly event that brings everyone from the neighbourhood together to sing lovely Christmas carols. Bandra is a truly ideal place to spend a quaint Christmas vacation.
2. Pondicherry: This French colonial town is known to make visitors feel like they are traversing a small town in the south of France or Portugal, and during the holiday season, tourists can get a slice of European style Christmas right here in India. While Pondicherry is not the easiest place to get to, as it’s about a three hour drive from Chennai airport, it is definitely worth a visit during Christmas! Locals and tourists alike celebrate by visiting Mission Street, which is usually decked out in lights and is where you can pick out a Christmas tree and do some festive shopping. This is right across from the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which conducts the church service. The Christmas Market or Marche De Noel, is another famous Pondicherry tradition that takes place every year, and you can have a veritable feast at any of the local restaurants that go all out on Christmas dinners.
3. Kerala: Kerala’s strong community of Syrian Christians have their own unique traditions and celebrations around Christmas that are always a joy to witness. Festivities begin early, with many families and bakeries preparing the traditional fruit cake, for which fruits and nuts are soaked in rum for a significant period of time. On the day of Christmas, most churches host a midnight mass and the streets are filled with carollers who show up at your doorstep in Santa masks and sing their hearts out. It’s also tradition to eat some local delicacies such as mutton biryani or appam and stew on Christmas day. Neighbours and friends also send each other cookies, cakes and other goodies throughout the week! Kerala is definitely one of the top places in India to get a warm, wholesome Christmas experience.
4. Kolkata: Kolkata is one of the merriest cities on the list and celebrates Christmas each year with much pomp and splendour. Park Street is the place to be during Christmas time as it is decorated with lights, has live music and food stalls for locals and tourists to enjoy. This is the annual Kolkata Christmas Festival, that people from all over the world attend. Christmas brunch in Kolkata includes roast turkey and duck, rum cake and an assortment of delicacies and St Paul’s Cathedral hosts the biggest midnight mass in the city. One of the most charming cities in India to visit during the holiday season.
5. Shillong: The atmosphere of Shillong during Christmas time is electric. While it’s a small town devoid of the usual hustle and bustle of big cities, it definitely comes alive during the holiday season. As the “musical capital” of the country, there can be carols heard around every corner and there are also a variety of live gigs and concerts that visitors can attend. Police Bazaar, in the centre of town, is the place to be on Christmas day. It is jam packed with people, food stalls and shops selling Christmas decor and gifts. The Cathedral of Saint Mary and Shillong’s Catholic Cathedral hold beautiful midnight mass services attended by all. Your trip should definitely end with a visit to the music cafes scattered around the town that are sure to be alive with the Christmas spirit.
6. Goa: It’s a well-known fact that Goa is one of the best places in India to go to for New Year’s Eve. However, Goa during Christmas is also a fabulous experience, so you should combine the two holidays and visit for the entire week! There’s always lots to do around the holiday season in Goa, including watching the firework show at Anjuna beach and attending midnight mass at the Basilica of Bom Jesus - one of India’s oldest churches. You can also participate in star making and cradle making competitions across the state while gorging on a mix of traditional Christmas food like roast turkey and Goan favourites like lemon butter garlic prawns!
While you might have to fly to Europe or the US to get a “traditional” Christmas experience like we see in the movies, these places in India have their own unique twist to the holiday season. Visiting even one of these locations is sure to ensure that you have a joyous, fabulous and very merry Christmas!