Since Amrita came down to Kolkata with her parents when she was only 6 years old, the Midnight Mass at the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral had always fascinated her. The well-dressed crowd from all faiths and denominations, the sonorous voice of the Bishop, and the warm environment on a cold December night never failed to overwhelm her with a feeling of joy.
No other city in the country celebrates Christmas like the City of Joy does and in fact, it’s something that the likes of award-winning author Amit Chaudhuri believe is “better than even the London Christmas!”
All corners of the city are lit up; and though the aesthetics in many cases may be questionable, the spirit is wonderfully genuine. The festooned lights of Park Street are of course famous—a century-old tradition, and hundreds of thousands throng the road just to look at them. The various monuments in and around the maidan are also lit up, and a late-night drive along the wide avenues there can be a near-magical experience.
It is common to notice children wearing red and white Santa caps, and the serpentine queues in front of prominent bakery shops to buy that de rigueur Christmas cake. After all, Burra Din of yesteryears’ British has turned into Borodin for everyone in Kolkata.
Christmas Traditions at Bow Barracks
Bow Barracks — the official homes of the Anglo-Indian population in Kolkata — is made up of rows of old red brick houses. Although Kolkata sees no dearth of Yuletide celebrations, including the carnival held along Park Street, Bow Barracks has its own followers.
Usually, the celebrations begin during the week before Christmas. The grotto where the local residents pray is spruced up and decorated. A crib is set up in a corner. A decorated Christmas tree sits pretty with all its baubles. Streamers and other festive decorations hand over the quadrangle. Every flat has a shining star on the balcony.
The local community holds various programmes, including those for senior people as well as the poor and needy children of the area, irrespective of religious faith. Food packets are distributed among the poor. Sporting activities, including football matches, organised.
In the evenings, Bow Barracks gets completely transformed with so many smiling happy faces of all faiths enjoying a great time. The entire place is lit up with fairy lights. Canopies of lights cover the quadrangles. The buildings are illuminated. Carol singers mingle with the crowd. Children enjoy a turn in the merry-go-round. Music programmes enhance the festive mood and people are not averse to dancing to the beat.
The local residents set up stalls and sell home-made food. And one of the most sought-after Christmas specialties that you get here is authentic home-made wines. They come in different flavours like ginger wine, grape, plum, and raisins and are prepared using family recipes. Also, a must-visit is J N Barua, a cake shop dating back to the British days, which sells mouth-watering cakes and cookies.
Christmas Celebrations at Park Street
Park Street is where the city celebrates its festivals irrespective of faiths and this spirit is most conspicuous during the week-long Christmas celebrations. Themed decorations take to the streets, while LED ornamental lights sparkle after sundown. The street chimes in harmonious carols, while a beautiful Christmas tree decked in baubles waits at the end of Allen Park. As the city’s signature yellow taxi meanders its way through the sweater-draped crowds, the reflections of fairy lights on the surface entice. Park Street and Christmas are unthinkable without one another. There is no place to celebrate Christmas in India, like on Kolkata’s Park Street.
Park Street, being a somewhat anglicized part of the city, has always been the centre of Christmas celebrations. Nowadays, the celebration extends till New Year and despite the extension, the high spirit is unwavering.
Although the carnival-like Christmas celebrations started in 2011 only, Park Street had always been special during Christmas. As gastronomic exuberance is a definite part of festivities in Kolkata, Park Street, with its range of renowned restaurants on both sides, always drew a huge crowd, if only to immerse themselves in the spirit and enjoy great food.
For some people, Christmas is not Christmas without the cakes and baked goods from Flury’s, the iconic restaurant on Park Street. Their signature fruit, plum, and Dundee cakes, as well as yule logs, are some of the bestsellers.
The Year-End Merrymaking
Christmas actually heralds the year-end holidays which extend till the New Year. Apart from the usual Christmas celebrations, citizens enjoy the times to the fullest. All the outdoor amusement parks, the zoo, and the movies are quite crowded. As the academic pressure is also less in schools, parents take this opportunity to unwind after the stress of year-long struggles on different fronts.
This is also the time when the city hosts a wide range of events — be it fairs, exhibitions, or food festivals.
As the dreaded pandemic recedes slowly from our lives, this year is expected to be full of fun, laughter, and enjoyment during the ‘merry’ season.