Christmas is celebrated the world over on the 25th of December in the winter season. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and is the most important festival of the Christians. This festival was first celebrated in 336 under the first Christian Roman Emperor Constatine. Later Pope Julius I officially declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25th and since then the tradition continues.
Various traditions are associated with Christmas and they change according to the local practices. One common feature is the spirit of Christmas, the gaiety, the giving and sharing and above all the advent of Christ.
Midnight Mass is a very important service for Christians, especially the Catholics. The whole family attends Mass which is followed by a huge feast of delicacies and also exchange of gifts. In the Catholic church, Midnight Mass is held only during Christmas and Easter. At both masses the church and altar bells are rung while the priest says the “Gloria”, (Gloria in excelsis Deo) and hence the significance of Christmas bells.
Churches in India are beautifully decorated with flowers and candles. Homes are also spruced up and decorated with colourful stars, Christmas trees and lights signifying that Jesus is the Light of the World.
In South India, many Christians light little clay oil lamps [diyas] in much the same way as Hindus do for Diwali. These lamps are placed on roof tops or on walls bordering the homes giving the whole place a delightfully beautiful aura. Today’s youngsters prefer the electric lights of varied hues and sizes to light up the place.
Carol singing is a popular tradition and usually begins a week before Christmas. Both young and old join in to sing carols as they wallk around the neighbourhood. Homes welcome them and they are offered cakes, chocolates and wine. This is fervently followed in Goa, Mumbai, Kerala and the North Eastern states and to a lesser degree in other states too.
Most Christian families have a Nativity scene with the crib and clay figures surrounding it. Schools, Colleges, Shops, Malls and almost all buildings have this and also a Santa Claus denoting Christmas celebrations. Roads and shops also have large hanging lanterns, stars and lights enhancing the festive air.
The Christmas dinner where the whole family gathers together is on Christmas eve. Traditionally the meal serves the Christmas Turkey which has been replaced often by Chicken. In Kerala, traditional Catholics fast without meat from December 1st to the 24th and then, on the 25th is the great feast of Christmas!
Every Christian house is decorated with a large, colourful, shining star. So popular has this custom become, that one can find these stars hanging outside many non-Christian homes too, a symbol of the oneness of all religions.
What’s Christmas without a Santa Claus? Children hang up stockings and wait for Santa to come and bring them their gifts: gifts that they have earlier enlisted in their letters to him. The plump, lovable, smiling Santa in red and white is universally loved. In Thrissur, Kerala, a huge parade of Santa Clauses is held on the 27th of December for the past few years, earning it a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Men, women and children don the red and white Santa attire with the pointed cap making it a unique spectacle with over 18,000 Santas! It is an event keenly awaited and has been aptly named “Buon Natale”, which is Italian for Merry Christmas.
Whatever the practice, Christmas spells joy and peace for all.