Christmas In Calcutta

There goes a saying among devout Bengalis, ‘Bangali’r baaro maashey tero parbon’; which when translated essentially throws some light on how much the Bengalis love embracing and celebrating festivals since time immemorial. Be it Durga Puja, Holi, or even Eid, if there is a festival, Bengalis shall celebrate it with full fervour. And in keeping with the jubilant Bengali souls and their love for festivities, how can the Yuletide spirit be left behind?
If we look back on history, we’ll see that Christmas became an essential component of the winter festivities in Calcutta primarily during the British Raj. Calcutta being the primary hub of socio-political activity of the British, it was also the major site for their recreation and festivities, and Christmas was no exception. Christmas was among the most important religious festivals and congregations for the British and Jew community that inhabited the city back then, and it is only imperative for Christmas to be celebrated with enormous fervour and dedication. The city would be bedecked with lights, the churches would partake in service, and the British and Bengali-Christian communities would celebrate the day with traditional Christmas gatherings all across town.
After the departure of the British, Christmas declined in importance as a religious festival in most parts of India. The small Anglo-Indian community in India still celebrates Christmas in a big way, even in Calcutta where they still observe midnight mass and take part in elaborate cake-mixing ceremonies. To the non-Christian community in Calcutta however, although it is not of much cultural importance to them, they celebrate it as a festival which they dedicate to homecoming and uniting with family and friends in the Yuletide spirit.The nip in the air sets the mood as the Bengalis set out to spend Christmas in their own glorious ways. It is interesting to note the ease with which the Bengalis have incorporated a festival so deeply rooted in religious history, and made it into a festival of their own, when old friends meet, families come together, and take part in charitable activities, traditional Christmas feasts, parties and what not. Christmas has been adapted by the Calcuttans as a festival of reconciliation, of charity and good work, and most importantly as a time when one would leave behind the monotonous hustle of their daily lives and partake in whatever that would make them happy. It is not just another holiday in the calendar, it is a day when Bengalis would also fully celebrate the pleasant chill in the Calcutta weather, go out in all their finery, and channel their festive spirit with as much fervour as someone who belongs to the community where Christmas holds a cultural importance. Many Calcuttans also pay their respects to traditional Christmas practices by going to the Church, seeking authentic English confectionaries especially from British confectioners Flurys and Jewish confectioners Nahoum’s, decking up their homes with red and green adornments, giving each other presents and the likes. Christmas thus serves as a glorious example to how culturally inclusive Bengalis have always been, to be able to adapt themselves to cultures and practices not their own, but to unite in festive spirit and spread happiness and love around them.


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