The mild winter that Kolkata experiences around Christmas is an indication for the people to come out and enjoy. Therefore, in Kolkata, Christmas is not merely a religious festival or a colonial hangover. It is an unmistakable recognition of festive cheer and celebrations; you do not have to profess the faith for taking part in the celebrations.
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This is the time to browse through the innumerable stalls around New Market or in other neighborhoods to buy a Christmas tree, Santa Claus dolls, stars and buntings. Time to queue up at iconic cake shops such as Flurys and Nahoum. Time to dig out old Anglo-Indian acquaintances for a sip of homemade wine or get a friend to invite you for the special dinners at time-honored clubs. Joining the mid-night mass at the historic St Paul’s Cathedral is an annual ritual followed by many residents, irrespective of their faith.
Here are five ways to discover how Kolkata celebrates Christmas.
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Take a tour of the churches of Kolkata around Christmas. Although these can be visited round the year, Christmas adds an extra layer to their historic and architectural attractions. Illuminated and often decorated with Nativity scenes, they are open to visitors of all faiths. Everyone is welcome to attend the prayers too. However, some of the churches may be constrained for space, and you have to go early if you want a seat. This year, owing to the pandemic situation, they have urged visitors to maintain all safety protocols. Some of the popular churches which are a delight to visit are St Paul’s Cathedral, St John’s, St Andrew’s Kirk, Duff, St Stephen’s, Portuguese Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Mission Church etc. You may also attend guided church tours organized by city-based heritage and walk groups.
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Once part of military barracks, this block of red brick buildings was home to a large number of Anglo Indian communities. Now it has become more cosmopolitan with many of the Anglo-Indian families having migrated abroad. But the Christmas celebration attracts a lot of visitors. Although the pandemic has forced the residents to cut short their programmes, you may drop in for a walk around the neighborhood to soak in the ambience. The entire area is decorated with colorful LED lights and bright stars, Christmas trees and Santa Claus cut outs. The grotto where the local people pray is spruced up and a crib is set up on the side. If you are lucky, you may find a food stall or two set up by the local residents. 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.
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Formally called the Kolkata Christmas Festival, it is the latest addition to the city’s Yuletide celebration. Held annually since 2011, Allen Park on Park Street is the main venue where the cultural functions, including choir singing and live bands, during the evening, take place. The park is decorated with dioramas of Nativity scenes. However, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers have decided not to have the food stalls this year. You may visit the restaurants, bars and pubs, along the thoroughfare. Park Street itself takes on the look of a fair, decorated with fairy lights and illuminated panels. A business house on Park Street has set up a Christmas Tree on their lawn which, at 54 feet, is said to be the tallest (along with its decorations) in the city. Besides, there is a seven feet tall Santa Claus, along with other installations. There are adequate police arrangements to ensure safety of the people but be prepared for crowds and traffic jams. One of the best options is to take the underground metro to Park Street and then walk down to Allen Park and back. This year, the Festival will continue till December 30.
Don’t be surprised to find long queues in front of popular bars and restaurants because eating out is a favorite activity during this period. The nip in the weather is an excuse for Kolkata residents to bring out their fashionable winter wear and go partying in style. Cafes, bars and restaurants bring forth specially curated menus, consisting of classics and inventive dishes. If you know someone who is a member of the old clubs of Kolkata – the Bengal Club, the Calcutta Club, the Tollygunge Club, etc. – then you may get them to invite you to the special lunch and dinner organized around Christmas where you may dine on some of the old Kolkata classics.
Many use the Christmas holiday as an excuse to explore the city. You may take a ride on the Kolkata Connect Double Decker Bus for a tour of the heritage precinct known as Benoy Badal Dinesh Bagh (Dalhousie Square) to see some of the colonial (designed upon various styles of European architecture) and post-colonial edifices. Or, take a country boat ride down the Hooghly, which lies to the west of the city. As part of Christmas packages, the state transport corporation has also introduced a river cruise (with live band) and a special tram (which will run on the Gariahat-Esplanade-Shyambazar route).
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