We say farewell to Christmas in Iceland and head southeast for 8307 km to India.
India is the second most populous country in the world - population was estimated as 1.35 billion in 2018 and with a land area of 3,287,263 square km, the country boasts 447 native languages.
The country is home to many amazing landmarks including the Taj Mahal, The Red Fort (Delhi) and Humayun's Tomb, and is a popular destination for tourists.
Elephants are considered sacred in India and there's even an elephant spa at Punnathoor Cotta Elephant Yard Rejuvenation Centre in Kerala.
How do Indians celebrate Christmas?
The Christians of India celebrate Christmas on 25th December.
Whilst only 2.3% of the population in India are Christians, this still represents 25 million people! They are mostly Roman Catholics but traditions vary in different regions (the main areas being Goa and South West India).
Churches are decorated with candles and Poinsettia flowers for the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In an alternative to the classic Christmas Trees, many people will decorate a banana or mango tree. Mango leaves are also used to decorate homes. In the south of India, some Christians will put a small oil lamp on their roof (flat roofs) to represent Jesus being the light of the world. Many Christians in Goa will have traditional Christmas Trees and on Christmas Eve, giant star-shaped paper lanterns are hung between houses so they’re overhead when walking down the neighbourhood road.
Most families will also have a nativity scene as decoration, and people might compete to see who has the best scene.
In South West India, every house is decorated with a Christmas star, usually bought from a stationary shop. People also make cribs in their homes and churches.
Midnight mass is key for Christians in India and they will walk to the mass with their whole family. After the mass there’s feasting and the exchange of presents.
Christians who live in Goa have a lot more ‘western’ customs at Christmas time. They’ll go carol singing during the week before Christmas. Families will home-make sweets and then give them to friends and neighbours.
The tribal Christians of the Bhil Folk, in north-west India, go out every night for a week at Christmas singing their own carols and telling the Christmas story to surrounding villages.
Many Indian children, if they celebrate Christmas, believe in Father Christmas (or ‘Christmas Baba’) who is said to deliver presents to them via horse and cart. Goa Christians will also celebrate Epiphany.
Traditional fruit Christmas Cake is a popular treat at Christmas time along with sweets like neureos (small pastries stuffed with dry fruit and coconut and then fried), and dodol (similar to toffee with coconut and cashew).
The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and consists of more ‘western’ dishes like roast turkey or chicken. After Midnight Mass, most Christians (with the exception of Goa) will have their main Christmas meal which tends to be a feast of different curries.
Traditional Catholics will fast from 1st December – Christmas Eve and the fast is broken after Midnight Mass.
Our next destination looks at Christmas in Indonesia.