To Kolkata, Christmas is not merely a religious festival or a colonial hangover. Here, it is an unmistakable recognition of festive cheer and celebrations. The mild winter of the city is an indication for the people to come out and enjoy. It is the time to queue up at iconic cake shops like Flurys and Nahoum’s. Time to dig out old Anglo-Indian acquaintances for a sip of the rare homemade wine. Time to browse through the innumerable stalls around New Market or in other neighbourhoods to buy a Christmas tree, Santa Claus dolls, stars and buntings. And interestingly, not all the buyers are Christians by faith.
Midnight Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral
Irrespective of their religious beliefs, a large number of people in Kolkata flock to the midnight mass at St Paul’s Cathedral. So, do be there early if you want a seat – the crowd often spills into the lawns. One of Kolkata’s popular attraction, this cathedral, built in Indo-Gothic style - between 1839 and 1847 - is illuminated during Christmas and also sets up a Nativity scene.
You have to be at this central Kolkata neighbourhood if you want to see Santa Claus arriving in a rickshaw. Evenings are the best time to visit the Yuletide celebrations (officially known as the Bow Barracks Fest) when the illuminations are switched on, and along with the Christmas trees and other decorations, turn the area into a magical land for a few days. The grotto where the local people pray is spruced up and a crib is set up on the side. A lot of activities, including charitable works, football matches and musical performances are held on various days. Even though the number of Anglo-Indian families living here has sharply declined, this is the time to interact with members of those who still call Bow Barracks home. But do not barge into their homes or insist on sampling the home-made wine. If they allow you inside or offer the wine, consider it a bonus. However, some families do set up stalls selling home-made goodies. Festivities begin on December 23 and continue till January 1.
You can join any curated walk (keep checking Facebook) or draw up your own itinerary. As the churches are scattered over a large area, it may not be possible to see all of them on a single walk. Travelling by local transport or hiring a car is also possible. The churches in Kolkata are known for their historical and architectural significance. Look out for the paintings, stained glass windows, old artefacts and records, musical instruments such as pipe organs, etc. Some have notable monuments and graves within the church complex. Also, do note, some of the churches are located in very crowded areas. Some of the popular churches include St John’s Church, St Andrew’s Kirk, Portuguese Church, Mission Church, St James Church, Greek Orthodox Church, St Stephen’s Church, etc. A private tour operator Beyond Horizon is offering a walk on December 25.
Park Street Carnival
Almost a decade old, the Kolkata Christmas Festival is the latest addition to the city’s festive calendar. The busy thoroughfare is engulfed in canopies of fairy lights and illuminated panels and other decorations. Allen Park in the corner is the venue of the main event, where most of the cultural functions take place. The park is decorated with dioramas of Nativity scenes and also has a food court. On weekends, you may find stalls selling food and bric a bracs set up along the pavements of the main road. Do be prepared for crowded streets and traffic jams. There is adequate police arrangement to ensure safety of the people. Usually, the carnival begins in the middle of December and continues till Christmas. Depending on public response, the dates may be extended. For now, the dates are from December 16 to 23, 2019. Follow the Kolkata Christmas Festival 2019 Facebook page for programme updates.
Boat cruise on the Hooghly
One of the best views of Kolkata is from the Hooghly River which lie to the west of the city. Take an evening cruise organised by West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) or private operators. Vivada is offering a Xmas party on boat from Dec 24 to 25. You can also charter a boat for your own private party – you may rent a houseboat or a luxury boat from WBTDC.