As 2.4% of India’s total population, you can find Christians from Goa to Sikkim and Chennai. Every year, these communities prepare for Christmas at home and share the experience with their neighbors, whether they be Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, or Jewish. After all, Christmas is a public holiday that everyone in India can enjoy.
The Christian community in India share in worldwide Christian Christmas traditions, such as exchanging gifts, waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and attending mass on Christmas day. In fact, there are several names for Santa Claus, including:
- Christmas Thaathaa in Tamil and Telugu communities
- Christmas Baba in Hindi-speaking regions
- Christmas Papa in Malayalam
There is a holiday tradition for every community in India, and it’s this diversity that makes the Christmas season so exciting and festive. From carol singing to nativity plays and local cuisine, there’s so much to enjoy about celebrating Christmas in India.
The Essentials of Celebrating Christmas in India
Christmas Festivities abound across all states in India, from Maharashtra to North East India and the Southern states. Much like Christians abroad, Christians in India set up Christmas decorations, attend services, meet with family, and share in a Christmas feast to celebrate. Many may choose to decorate a Christmas tree, and children look forward to Christmas morning when they can open their gifts.
In Goa, the Roman Catholic community sings Christmas carols and attends Midnight Mass at historic Portuguese cathedrals. It’s also not uncommon to find Christmas celebrations spilling into restaurants and beach parties. Goans also enjoy baking a plum Christmas cake and dodol.
In North-Eastern cities and villages, the Christmas holiday is celebrated with much fanfare throughout the month, as communities set up night bazaars or Christmas Markets. In areas like Mizoram, children receive their Christmas gift on a plate called thlang-ra.
In Kerala, Christians may choose to fast from the first of December until the end of the month and hang Christmas stars outside their homes or offices.
While lights may be strung around house windows around the country, it’s also common for families to light the traditional Indian oil lamps or diyas. Local and unique decorations for their Christmas tree or home may be made from banana or mango leaves. And many communities display Nativity scenes or put on plays around the birth of Jesus Christ.
But of course, no Christmas celebration would be complete without mentioning all the amazing dishes. Some popular food served during the Christmas holiday in India include:
- Allahabadi cake
- Roast chicken
- Mutton or chicken stew
Indian Christmas Traditions Abroad
For most Indians far from home, Christmas celebrations are easy to participate in. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada, as well as most European countries, all celebrate Christmas. Whether you are Catholic or Protestant, there are churches and resources worldwide to keep the season festive.
However, even if Christmas is the most popular holiday where you live, Christmas in India is nostalgic. And if you’re working abroad as an expat without your family, it can feel lonely.
Outside of celebrating Christmas Eve or Christmas Day virtually, you can also attend Midnight mass or other services at your local churches. You can also find Indian-majority or led churches in your area. Some of these churches even conduct services in various Indian languages. Some examples include:
- Indian Churches in the USA
- Indian Churches in Australia
- Indian Churches in the UK
- Indian Churches in Canada
You can find more churches through the Indian Christians United network.
Furthermore, you can still take part in local Christmas markets and sales, bake a Christmas cake, set up Christmas decorations, and invite your local friends to Christmas dinner. Many countries, such as the US and the UK, have several Indian Christian expat communities who share in the festivities. Consider inviting your fellow expats—Indian or not—to a Christmas feast or potluck to share in the holiday spirit.
And making your favorite Christmas dish is easy. Most ingredients for Indian cuisine can be found at your local international market, Indian or South Asian grocery, or online.
But what about your family back home?
It’s possible to keep the Christmas tradition alive.
You can send gifts via Amazon India or Flipkart. Or surprise your family members with a Christmas dinner from a delivery application and pay the bill online.
Another option is to attend virtual church services together. For example, this People’s Church in Bangalore provides online services and recordings.
Some additional ideas for your long-distance Christmas celebration are:
- Secret Santa
- Holiday bingo
- Livestream a nativity play
- Sing carols together on Skype or WhatsApp Video
- Share advent calendar activities leading up to Christmas Eve
- Share your favorite pieces of scripture
- Send e-cards to your loved ones
This Christmas, Send Support to Loved Ones
A fundamental Christmas tradition is giving gifts. During this Christmas holiday, one of the most appreciated gifts is money. While it seems impersonal, sending money when you’re far from home is often easier and more affordable than sending gifts through the mail. You can easily spend a few thousand rupees sending gifts, only to have customs ask your family to pay duties and taxes to receive the package. But sending money directly is easier for everyone—and it allows your friends and family to buy what they need and what they want.
When choosing to send money home for the holidays, join over 5 million others in choosing Remitly. Our app makes international money transfers safe, easy, and affordable. And you can always track your transfer, so you can send money with peace of mind.
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