Christmas is not Christmas without carol singing, midnight mass, and beautiful churches that make the yuletide spirit softly creep into your heart. There is no place better to get drenched in holiday cheer than the quaint All Saints Church perched atop Malabar Hill on Little Gibbs Road.
The little church fills up with faithful parishioners for service on Christmas day but the celebrations start weeks ahead.
Hark now hear…
In the last 10 days before Christmas, a choir from All Saints Church goes a-wassailing around the neighbourhood, voices merrily soaring into the night. People fill up the little church to hear the strains of O Holy Night and Hark the Herald Angels being sung by the lively Bombay Mizo Christian Fellowship (BMCF) choir which sings English and Mizo carols. The Mizo community is predominantly Christian and members of the community come together at All Saints Church to recreate the spirit of Christmas. The little choir is comprised mostly of enthusiastic college students with a few older members as well.
But if sitting on wooden pews leaves you cold, festivities in a grassy park might be just the thing for you. The All Saints Church hosts ‘Carols in the Park’, a festive Christmas programme, every year. This year, it is slated to be held on December 22, with performers from across the city coming together at the Hanging Gardens amphitheatre, singing and dancing under the sky. Amrita Joshi, a Malabar Hill resident, who attended ‘Carols in the Park’ last year, says, “It was beautiful seeing the performance under the trees. What really stood out for me was that it was not just traditional Christmas carol singing, they even had interpretative dance!”
Grown ups can also get an early sprinkling of holiday cheer with ‘Christmas Carol Night’ at the Catholic Gymkhana. Held on December 7 this year, Blossom Mendonca's Living Voices choir and Dylan D'Souza's Salvation Singers regaled the audience with traditional and modern yuletide music. For Karen Alfonso, a resident of Dhobi Talao, ‘Christmas Carol Night’ is a family tradition.
“My mother first took me to it when I was three months old and we have almost never missed it since. For us it is the start of the festive season."
Santa Claus is coming to town
There is more to Christmas than masses and carols. A few days before Christmas, Catholic Gymkhana on Marine Drive throws an annual party for children. Nearly 200 children attend it. They play games under the twinkling lights of a beautiful Christmas tree and wait hopefully for the arrival of a burly gentleman with a golden heart lurking beneath his crimson coat to hand out gifts to them. Till then, they can sink their teeth into fluffy candyfloss and popcorn and enjoy the antics of a magician. Alfonso remembers past Christmases spent at Catholic Gymkhana, “I would wait eagerly for Santa, who would descend down a sort of circular staircase, throwing presents to excited children waiting below.” According to Norbert Pereira, managing committee member and chairman of entertainment sub-committee of Catholic Gymkhana Limited, “This year, the party was held on December 15 and the children alone numbered 168. With the addition of parents and performers, the numbers swelled.”
Put on your dancing shoes
But it is really December 25 when families, couples, and friends throng the bedecked halls of the Catholic Gymkhana for the Christmas dance. According to Karl Vaz, the Honorary General Secretary, “Christmas celebrations have happened year after year, for more than one hundred years.” Nolan Mascarenhas, a photographer and marketing professional living in Colaba, recalls last year's celebrations with glee. “It was lots of fun. Catholic Gymkhana is really the liveliest place for Christmas in South Mumbai."
This year will be no different. Gavin D'Souza, a resident of Lamington Road and member of the entertainment subcommittee at Catholic Gymkhana, says, “The gymkhana is closed on Christmas day and the entire staff comes together to focus on this one event. Bryn's Band will be playing and a special Christmas menu will be available.” That means tablefuls of traditional Goan food like roast assad, sorpotel and Goan roast pork; Chinese food, a counter preparing smokey, barbecued kebabs, a live Koliwada food counter, as well as a counter specialising in pasta; and finally, plenty of spicy, crunchy snacks to be washed down with alcohol.
With music and merriment in the air, people and places togged up in their festive best and voluptuous spreads of food, it is no wonder that Christmas day is one time of the year people across communities look forward to.