Rita Farhat Mukand
Perhaps, no other city in India celebrates Christmas as elaborately as Kolkata; the city exudes its enchanting aura and glows like a fairyland!
Park Street in Kolkata holds the heart of Christmas. With lights and stars shimmering all over the city, choruses of joyous songs ringing through the chilly winter air, glistening green Christmas trees, songs, cakes, steaming hot tea and coffee, snacks and gifts shared galore in this rich season of giving, the atmosphere in Kolkata is charged with excitement.
Christmas celebrations shimmer back into action in Park Street this year after two long years of silence due to the pandemic.
In extraordinary performances, there are gripping Christmas plays enacted all over the city sharing the message of Christmas while the children have some of the happiest times of their lives scampering around playing, acting, sipping hot chocolate or tea, nibbling chips, Christmas cakes and receiving thrilling Christmas gifts.
Over decades, the season of Christmas has been joyously celebrated by all communities in the city. People from all religions are often delighted to be invited to a Christmas party and have tons of fun. Others from different religions also happily attend the midnight services in churches to listen to the glorious singing, and peaceful messages of Christmas amid the steaming hot coffee and Christmas fruity cinnamon cakes offered at midnight.
Makeshift shops selling festival ware in the Park Street of Kolkata
In the great gusto of giving, the wealthy give the underprivileged children toys, blankets, warm clothes, snacks, food packets, and a lot of other exciting goodies. A few days ago, a little girl, Shiela, who attends one of the free schools for underprivileged children stood in line, looking at the teams of people distributing gifts to the children.
Wearing a thin dress, she was shivering a little in the chilly weather and she was instantly given a warm sweater to wrap herself in. When one of the distributors asked her what was special for her during Christmas, she said there were lots of delicious snacks to eat, hot drinks, and pretty gifts.
Her eyes sparkled as she added, “The best thing I also like about Christmas is there are so many lights to brighten up the night and that makes me feel so happy, it’s a lot of fun and I love to sing and dance to the tune of Jingle Bells and other songs.”
Sheila also added, “Christmas is a time of getting together with my friends and enjoying fun, laughter, food, and good music together and during this time, I forget all my tough and difficult times.”
The beautifully decorated Park Street
The areas where the Anglo-Indian communities live such as Ripon Street and Elliot Road are also sparkle with stars hung before every door while families visit each other for Christmas lunch or dinner, sharing mellow times of laughter and singing together.
Christmas Carnivals held in Park Street and other parts of the city particularly want to celebrate this season of togetherness with churches working on ways to give back to the community by selling cakes and other confectionaries and goodies. All this money is utilized to help different causes and people in need. Some of the funds generated from the event will be directed to uphold local charity initiatives and projects, promoting the essence of compassion and love during this Christmas season.
Every Christmas, families in Bow Barracks gather to celebrate Christmas decorating the entire area with Christmas trees, festive lights, and stars, Bow Barracks is a region in central Kolkata. It is a small hub of mainly Anglo-Indian people who have lived there for generations. Home to over 100 Anglo- Indian families of Kolkata.
It was originally built for the soldiers at the end of the First World War and later transformed into housing facilities for Anglo-Indians under the Calcutta Improvement Trust. The renovation of Bow Barracks has been a long-standing demand of the Anglo-Indian community. In 2021, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took the initiative, and the Anglos stated they were delighted with this initiative.
Kolkata is uniquely the bedrock and meeting place of all religions in Bengal. This time, the Bishops in the city invited Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to inaugurate the Kolkata Christmas festival in Allen Park, Park Street, and in her speech she said, “I am privileged to consider myself as a human being. We love all the people, all the castes, all the religions…..maybe, somebody is having their religion but all festivals are celebrated equally and with respect…our young generations love to hope, and love to see these festivals. May God bless all of you, all of your families, all churches, to masjid, to temples, to gurdwaras.. and she named a list of all the different places of worship.
Kolkatans enthusiastically proclaim that no Kolkata Christmas is complete without a visit to the legendary New Market (once called Hogg Market) to buy decorations and gifts! Millions of people stream to the market to get boxes of Christmas cakes and unbeatable Nahoum brownies from Nahoum and Sons Private Limited Confectioners.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attending a stage drama on the life of Jesus
The message of Christmas that Christians celebrate is the birth of Jesus Christ whom the Christians call the Saviour and Messiah of the world who died as a sacrifice to take the sins of the people over the Earth on Himself by His death on the Cross, breaking the curse of separation from humans and God.
The Bible teaches that God will ultimately make a new Heaven and Earth to restore the glory of the Garden of Eden. Isaiah 9:6 in the Old Testament of the Bible is one of the prophecies of the Messiah, thousands of years before Jesus Christ was born on Earth, He was already living in Heaven and came down to Earth on Christmas, to be born as a human baby.
While the actual date of Christmas may not be factually correct according to calculations, and traditions such as the Christmas tree and Santa Claus came much later due to cultural contexts, the Bible records that when Christ was born, the angels flew all over the Earth singing songs and the world was filled with an unearthly peace that night due to the presence of angels saturating the atmosphere and this is why stars, angels and mangers and highlighted on Christmas.
Perhaps why Kolkata Christmases are the most enchanted ones in India is due to its historical roots.
It was the capital of the British Raj in India due to its strategic position and inherent wealth with its rich subterranean springs nourishing crops, minerals, and coal. In 1772, Warren Hastings, the inaugural Governor-General of India, designated Calcutta as the hub for supreme courts of justice and the highest revenue administration.
This decision resulted in Kolkata becoming the capital of British India, prompting the relocation of crucial offices from Murshidabad to Kolkata. The city is home to the country's largest population of Anglo-Indians, which is now a fast-disappearing group of native English speakers who are of mixed British, European, and Indian ancestry.
The spirit of peace and joy hovers over the city of Kolkata with angelic glory giving citizens a slice of Christmas heaven, during the Christmas season holding the most magical Christmases in India that glow like a fairyland, in many areas of the city.
Rita Farhat Mukand is an independent writer in West Bengal