I feel it in my toes
Christmas is all around me
And so the feeling grows"
With Billy Nigh cussing himself hard every single time he utters "Love" in place of "Christmas" at the recording studio in the iconic Christmas movie "Love Actually", I can’t help but laugh hard at his antics every time I watch the movie’s opening scene playing on TV. However, it also makes me wonder, how Christmas and love are largely synonymous and has been so for ages, so much so that it confuses an Englishman to the extent, of him committing a repeated error in making a choice between two words that are phonetically wide apart. It is not only about the colorful festivities or the sinfully delicious desserts that make Christmas so lovable. It’s more about sharing and spreading the festive mood all over. At least that is how I have seen Christmas being celebrated in the erstwhile capital of British India, Kolkata, my "City of Joy".
Image 1- The illuminated Park Street on Christmas night
Some may also term it as the colonial hangover of Calcuttans or a mere excuse of the Bengalis to celebrate anything and everything to keep away from work and stress. But a larger chunk of the global population agrees to the fact that no city on earth can be as festive as Kolkata. Kolkata indeed can celebrate any festival of any community with an equal amount of eagerness, joy, and respect for the respective communities.
Kolkata has been home to a sizeable population of Armenians, Parsees, Jews, and Anglo-Indians, since the times of British Rule in India. Though dwindling in numbers owing to their migration to the Western countries for better scope in terms of career and livelihood, these numerous faiths have co-existed in peace and solidarity for a long time, which has made Kolkata a hub for inter-faith cultural exchange and celebration. Kolkata and its people love embracing cultures and contributing their part to the observance of each. This warmth and homeliness of Kolkata have therefore been successfully attracting its diasporas from all over the globe during each of its fests right from Durga Pujo, to Eid, to Christmas, to the New Year’s, to the extremely well-stocked International Book Fair, and the glamorous events of Literary and Film Festivals. One of the most happening annual events in "Calcutta" that’s observed with huge pomp and show being the Kolkata Christmas Festival in December. People from all over Bengal plan their year-end schedule around it.
Image 2- Christmas is the season of friendship and fun in Kolkata
Image 3- A group of girls chatting away near Park Street Metro Station that remains insanely busy and crowded during this time of the year
Image 4- A little girl playfully blows soap bubbles at a Christmas fest.
The savory Rum balls of Flurys and the rich plum cakes of the grand old Jewish bakery of Nahoum’s are celebrated here with as much flavor and fervor the Bengali traditional sweets of Roshogolla of K.C Das’ and Nolen Gurer Shondesh of Girish and Nakur’s are.
Image 5- Assorted cakes and pastries at the Jewish bakery of Nahoums, a jewel in the Crown of the City of Joy
Crowds donning the signature red woolen caps of Santa’s as well as the amusing reindeer caps throng over to take a long walk on the brightly lit Park Street and view the various themed lighting all around, designed by the famous artisans from the nearby city of Chandannagar, a once illustrious colony of the French. It should be noted herein that the Kolkata Police remain constantly on their toes ensuring the safety and comfort of the Christmas crowd.
Image 6- The size of crowds at Park Street on the chilly Christmas evening
Image 7- The crowd size keeps increasing as the night deepens.
Anacondas-long queues outside the iconic restaurants on both sides of the street including the likes of the Moulin Rouge and Trincas, Mocambo and Peter Cat, not excluding the luxurious Park Hotel; make it clear as crystal why Park Street is the heart of "Calcuttan Christmas" celebration. Live music and entertainment in the adjoining Allen Park area add to the charm.
Image 8- The Moulin Rouge, once exclusive to celebrated film stars and business magnates, was one of the first places in independent India with its own jazzed up and musical evenings.
Image 9- Flurys, with its English tea room ambiance and the most delectable Rum balls has been charming the city dwellers since 1927.
However the real action begins at one of the finest specimens of the Indo-Gothic Architecture, the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the first Episcopal Church established outside the British territories, with the setting up of the nativity scene and participation of people irrespective of faith and culture in Christmas carols. The midnight mass at St. Paul’s is a sight to behold and an experience to engage in, which carries an entire culture in it.
Image 10- The magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral
Not forgetting the illuminated "Anglo para" of the Bow Barracks in Central Kolkata, where the entire neighborhood decks up like a bride during Christmas. What used to function as an army mess during the turbulent time of World War I was subsequently handed over to a few Anglo-Indian families once the war was over and is now a bustling neighborhood, whose Christmas celebration, popularly known as the Bow Barracks Fest is an open-air party that welcomes all. One gets to dance with the locals, taste their homemade wine and enjoy Christmas, the authentic Christian way.
Image 11- The entrance to the Bow Barracks Christmas Fest
Image 12- The red buildings of the Bow Barracks neighborhood all decked up with lamps and bulbs of various shapes and sizes
Image 13- The youth brigade dancing away to rhythmic music at the Bow Barracks Christmas Fest
The artful depiction of Jesus’ birth is an endearing sight and a significant part of the Christmas decor, that’s arranged at a visible corner of the festivities.
Image 14- The barn lit up on baby Jesus’ arrival, and eventually the entire universe did.
Christmas in Kolkata is not a one or two-day affair, it’s a long fest that marks its beginning in the early weeks of December and retains its full glory till the arrival of the New Year. It involves months-long planning and preparation.
Image 15- "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way"
Image 16- "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is comin' to town..."
Shopping of Christmas goodies and cards for family and friends, mixing of nuts and raisins with wine and storing them well until they are ready to be used in the baking of the traditional plum cakes, bringing out the classiest leather jackets and colorful sweaters from the darkest corners of the closets to brave the sudden chilly December weather in the otherwise warm and humid Kolkata, decorating that corner of home for the proud display of the accessorized Christmas tree, etc. are just a few of the Christmas chores that brings the families together and helps create a vibrant fun-filled atmosphere all around. Sometimes it does occur to me if we should offer our erstwhile colonial masters a crash course on Christmas celebration. They do have their roasted turkeys and scrumptious pies and puddings in place, but where do they bring the unmatchable enthusiasm and spirit of the "Calcuttans" from.