Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in India

Mid-December I began noticing bright decorations hanging in some shops, both in Chennai and then in Pondicherry. Large 3-dimensional colorful stars, garland, fake Christmas trees, lights, and cheap Chinese ornaments could be purchased by the passersby. In Pondicherry vendors around one of the old churches were selling sizeable Nativity sets.

India’s pervasive culture also has managed to intermingle with western Christmas traditions, forming a unique Indian flavor. In some homes people decorate a banana or mango tree instead of a pine tree. Instead of candles, some use the small clay oil lamps commonly used for Diwali. In the highly touristic site of Goa, huge celebrations take place on Christmas. Seen as the cradle of Christianity in India since St. Thomas arrived on the Kerala shores in 52 AD, Christmas is a large celebration throughout the south. Stew and appams (pancakes made of a batter of rice flour and coconut milk) are enjoyed in Kerala. In other south Indian states, murukku (a fried pretzel made of lentils and rice flour) are enjoyed. Rose cookies and other sweets are shared. Christmas services with their sweet hymns and chanting are accompanied with drums. Gift exchange is also common.

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