Sugar high in Chennai
Christmas celebrations in the city have been rapidly changing over the decades. “Many Anglo-Indians have left India, but those of us who are here make the most of it,” says Paul Jacobs, a musician. “Celebrations begin from the second week of December, but we soak the ingredients for the cake from the first week. In keeping with tradition, we go carol singing from door to door. At the end of the evening, we’re on a sugar-high from all the kulkuls, black halwa and other sweets on offer,” he says. “On Christmas day, we visit those who couldn’t make it for midnight mass and exchange homemade goodies.” The Christmas lunch at the Jacobs’ usually involve a pot-luck lunch under the shamiana that goes on till tea time. As the sun sets, a band whips up festive tunes and the young and the old dress up in gowns, hats and suits for the Christmas dance. On the 26th, there is a celebration for the neighbouring communities. The festivities continue till the New Year.
Community celebrations in Orissa
In Orissa, Christmas begins with harvesting paddy. “By the middle of December, we clean and paint our homes and put up decorations. By December 23, we’re all set to go carol singing and dance in front of the cribs in our respective streets,” says Subadh Naik, a journalist from Orissa.
“It’s customary for the head of each home to buy clothes for everyone. After the Christmas vigil, we have a dance and cut a Christmas cake with the priests and nuns,” he says. Christmas day is spent visiting family and friends and exchanging home-made cakes. Sometimes, different families even cook together or have a meal together. “On Christmas evening, we have a stage performance of song and dance. The festive mood continues till January 1 when we typically go to a nearby forest for a picnic,” says Naik.
A simple feast in Uttarkashi
The Christian community in Uttarkashi is very small and most are recent converts. “We go to church in the morning as there is no midnight mass,” says Pallavi Sharma Duffy. After mass, which is in Hindi, missionaries distribute sweets. The women wear salwars while the men wear pants, shirts and jackets. In the evening, people get together and drink chchang (home-brewed rice wine) which sometimes ends in much brouhaha.
Eating cake in Shillong
Christmas in Shillong, though festive, is solemn. The streets are lit up. Everyone puts up a tree and lights, irrespective of religion. Men, women and kids visit different localities and parishes singing carols in Khasi and English.
A Christmas vigil is held on December 24 and Christmas Day is usually celebrated with family and close friends. The food cooked is another great bonding opportunity — dohkhlieh (pig’s head which is cleaned, cut in small pieces, boiled and then mixed with ginger, salt, onion and green chilly), jadoh (rice mixed with meat), thylliemasi (ox tongue which is boiled and then prepared with onion, ginger, garlic, and chilly), tungrynbai (fermented soya bean chutney), which is eaten only in winter, bamboo shoot and chilly pickles, steamed rice or pulao and a chicken or mutton dish.
Members of each household cook on an open field and eat together during Bada Khanna — the community food festival, which takes places between December 27-29. Alcohol is not the centre of festivities. Mouth-watering whiffs of delicious cakes invade your senses as you walk past bakeries. “There’s more bread than cake–black forest, fruit cake, pineapple, walnut, plum...,” says resident Janessaline Pyngrope. “At home, we bake just one or two cakes to distribute amongst family. There’s so much assorted chocolate, cookies, brownies and fudge... even a chocoholic would tire of it.”