One time of the year when I personally would like to be in Kerala is at Christmas time. There are not many places in India where this festival is celebrated on such a scale. This is because Kerala is one of the regions in India where Christians are not a minority. Other areas are Goa, Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya. However, the only difference between Kerala and these other regions is the history of Christianity.
When talking about Christians in India, people imagine that this religion was introduced by the Portuguese and then later by the various missionary groups, both Catholic and Protestant. But they often forget the fact that Christianity came to India from the Middle East around 52 AD. During this time, trade between India and the Middle East was very significant, especially with the Malabar Coast of India. This region, which later came to be known as Kerala, attracted traders for its spices. It is through these Arab traders that the three main monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) were introduced into India. The earliest port of entry of these three major religions was through the coastal harbors along Kerala, of which ‘Muziris’ was the most important.
It is believed that, Christianity was introduced to India by none other than one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, St. Thomas. Doubting Thomas is thought to have landed in Muziris in Kerala and during his stay established the famous seven and half churches in Kerala. During this period Christianity hadn’t even reached Rome, the so called seat of modern Christianity. These communities who were converted by Thomas still exist in Kerala. The famous Mar Thoma Church and Jacobite Church belongs to those first converts. Even today, they are widely practiced and attended churches in Kerala.
The specialty of these churches is that the rituals are conducted in Syriac language. Later on, with the arrival of the Portuguese and other European powers in India, the Catholic Church became powerful and the Catholics became the largest community. Well, let’s leave behind the historical origins of Christians in India and Kerala and discuss about how Christmas is celebrated in the state.
Although Christmas is a religious festival, in Kerala, it is celebrated with a secular approach. This is evident not only from business and commercial perspectives, but also in the manner in which people participate in it. No matter the differences in religious beliefs, majority of the population decorates their houses at least by hanging a star or some lights and decorations. Even in New Delhi, India’s capital and one of India’s most modern and cosmopolitan cities, you cannot see this big concentration of stars and lightings during Christmas period. In addition, for shops and businesses in Kerala, Christmas along with Onam (Kerala’s state festival) are the two main seasons to make profits. Although, with globalization, satellite television and internet, Christmas period is hyped and mediatized by various business houses to attract more customers, the real essence of Christmas in India is limited to certain regions in the country.
For the Christian community in Kerala, it is an occasion for family reunions. The festive mood in Christian families starts on 24th evening and ends with the midnight mass. Most of them prefer to attend the midnight mass so as not to get up early in the morning. Christmas day is an occasion for a big festive lunch, with alcohol and lots of different types of mostly non-vegetarian dishes. Towns and cities in Kerala are well decorated and lighted for the occasion, especially the big cities like Kochi, Calicut and Trivandrum. On Christmas Eve people usually go out either to stroll in the beaches and parks or to watch a newly released movie.
Well, the latest trend in Kerala is to visit shopping malls, which have shops, restaurants and even movie houses all in one building. Another thing which many of us do is to visit various churches in the evening to see the lightings, decorations and cribs made for the occasion.
Christmas like Monsoon is something special to Kerala and is a rare experience. If you are ever planning a trip to South India, please do not miss out the Christmas season in Kerala; it is altogether a different experience.