Travel to these 5 Indian cities for Christmas celebrations
From carnivals and carols to local flavours and feasts, try these year-end destinations across the country
To truly experience Christmas in India, you must have Kolkata on your year-end travel plan. As the former British India capital and due to widespread missionary presence, Kolkata erupts in celebration during this time. Arguably, the epicentre of all the action is Park Street, which turns into a vehicle-free, open-air party full of merrymakers. Here you can dine at heritage restaurants such as Trincas, Peter Cat and Mocambo. Continue to New Market for some Christmas shopping and while you’re there, drop in at Nahoum and Sons, a Jewish bakery operating since 1902. Another must? The joyous celebrations of Bow fest at Bow Barracks—home to the city’s Anglo-Indian community.
Midnight Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral, modelled after the Canterbury Cathedral in England, is grand, but if you’re not fond of large crowds, try St John’s, India’s first Anglican church, or St Andrews, the only Scottish church in the city. An insider secret is the Kolkata club culture. A leftover from the colonial days, clubs like the Tollygunge Club, Bengal Club and Dalhousie Institute are famous for Christmas soirées with lunches, dancing, singing and live bands belting out retro tracks. Entry into these clubs is through membership only, so ask a member to take you along for a memorable experience.
Christmas is celebrated with equal fervour all over Kerala, but Kochi is where Yuletide celebrations shine in full glory. Start by visiting the Santa Cruz Basilica and St Francis Church. The latter is especially interesting to history buffs—not only is it one of India’s oldest churches but it once housed the remains of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Explore the Fort Kochi area amidst buntings, Santa Claus and angel statues and choir music in the air.
No one should miss the most-impressive Kathakali performances when in Kerala, so visit the Kerala Kathakali Centre to catch a daily show between 6 and 7:30 p.m. For scrumptious local food, try Fort House, Old Harbour or Malabar House, set in an 18th-century building. Visit the Cochin Carnival for spectacular processions led by decked-up elephants and people in bright costumes. One more important event is the Kochi–Muziris Biennale, an international art festival that begins around this time.
Shimla is a well-trodden summer destination. But Christmas in Shimla is a different experience altogether. The whole town is full of beautiful churches in festive finery, with the oldest and grandest one, Christ Church, opening up its doors for Mass. Fun fact: Christ Church houses the oldest pipe organ in the Indian subcontinent. Brought here in 1899, it is played at Mass every year.
Other neo-Gothic buildings to see are the Institute of Advanced Study, Gorton Castle, Bantony Castle and the Viceregal Lodge. For some Christmas shopping, Lakkar Bazaar for woollens and Mall Road for trinkets and decorations are ideal. Shimla’s pine and deodar forests make for some fabulous hiking trails when the crowds overwhelm. If you’re lucky, it might just be the year of a white Christmas too.
For local flavour, cool temperatures and less touristy crowds, head to Meghalaya’s capital, Shillong. Known for its vibrant music scene, the city resonates with live bands playing gospel music, carol sessions at churches and people singing traditional Khasi songs as well.
Make sure to see the 144-year-old cedar tree at All Saints’ Cathedral. One cannot be in Shillong and not taste the local food. Cafes are plentiful and delicious fruit cake is served nearly everywhere. Try local delicacies such as wak pura and sakin gata, a sweet sticky-rice preparation. There are many places to visit near Shillong, but during Christmas, do as the locals do and head to Sacred Forest at Mawphlang for a picnic. For shopping, go to Police Bazaar and grab a bite at Cafe Shillong, famous for its pork ribs and weekly gigs by the famous musician Lou Majaw.
Daman and Diu
Give the crowded beaches of Goa a miss and head to Daman and Diu, two quaint towns divided by the Arabian Sea. For about 400 years, Daman and Diu were under Portuguese rule and retain many customs and traditions that existed then, including rolicking Christmas revelry. Catch the traditional Portuguese dance Corridinho here and savour the famed Christmas cookies made by local women. With its Gothic-style architecture, shell-shaped motifs and ornate furnishings, St Paul’s Church for midnight Mass is a must.
While there, head to the historic St Jerome Fort, also called the fort of Nani Daman and the 16th-century Diu Fort. Not far from Diu Fort are the sandstone Naida caves. For a quieter experience, explore the casuarina-lined Jampore beach, Devka beach with its white sands and peaceful Chakratirth beach.