Christmas celebrations in Calcutta is a whole different ludo game. It is a tradition that harks back to the British Raj when Calcutta was the jewel in the colonial crown. As the capital of British India, Calcutta marked Christmas with the appropriate pomp and fanfare. The tradition happily lives on in today’s Kolkata (renamed to its Bengali pronunciation). Come Christmas Kolkata transforms into a winter wonderland where one can merrily get lost in its magical splendor.
Although Kolkata continues to be home to a nice number of Bengali Christians (40,000 in the last count) Christmas here is not merely confined to the Christian community. Kolkata Christmas is truly a secular and multicultural affair where Calcuttans of all beliefs and ethnicities cheerfully partake in all that the occasion has to offer.
The festivities kick off with a midnight mass on Christmas eve. Many Kolkata churches offer this service, but perhaps the most famous is the one at the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral. A vestige of colonial architecture St. Paul’s ushers in a long line of midnight visitors while its smart choir renders one Bengali carol after another. The majesty of St. Paul’s gives the music an added gravitas and is heavenly enough to beam you up to paradise instantly.
Next stop is Bow Barracks, the last bastion of Anglo Indians in Kolkata, which turns into a magical Santa land with canopies of lights and curtains of trees. And yes Santa makes a special appearance here when he forsakes his usual sled and arrives on a grand rickshaw – Ho Ho Ho! Bow Barrack’s Anglo-Indian residents will meanwhile bring out their homemade meatloaf and homemade wine, a treat certainly not to be missed.
But the hottest party in town is no doubt the decade old Kolkata Christmas Festival. It goes on in full swing at the very fashionable Park Street. Closed off to traffic, Park Street becomes a pedestrian’s delight as a billion lights go up, Xmas trees come down from the North Pole and Nativity scenes play out on street corners. Stalls selling Santa Claus memorabilia line up and down the street. All around is a sense of the carnival.
Finally, Christmas in Kolkata is not complete without a sacred pilgrimage to Nahoum and Sons. The 100-year-old Jewish bakery churns out a variety of tasty cakes like Rich Fruit Cake, Light Plum Cake, Margiepan, Spread Fruit Cake and more. It is the taste of heaven itself.
If you have yet to experience a dash of Kolkata Christmas, then, its high time you made a dash for Kolkata at the earliest opportunity.