Christmas is not the most feted day of the year for most people in Delhi, but it definitely does not go by unnoticed. The Christian population in India’s capital is relatively small (especially if you compare it to South or Northeast India), and most people are still recovering from the festival season, a long slew of Hindu celebrations that take place every autumn (Diwalli—arguably the most important festival of the year—Navratri, Karva Chauth, and Kartik Poornima, to name a few). By the time December 25th rolls around, most people have also been to their fair share of weddings, as the festival season overlaps with the traditionally auspicious matrimonial season in India.In Delhi, like pretty much everywhere else in the world, merchants with any business sense at all recognize that the Christmas season is a great time to cash in on the spirit of giving.But Christmas is still a national holiday in India, and most people do a little something to celebrate. On the days leading up to the holiday, the roadside vendors that normally make their living selling mosquito-electrocuting tennis rackets and tangerine-hued dusting cloths switch to selling bright red Santa hats that everyone—from local children to businessmen—sports with shameless abandon. Variety stores break out their stashes of Chinese-made Christmas ornaments and plastic evergreens, and bakeries make room for little blobs of fruitcake amongst their shelves of bone-dry cashew cookies and sliced white bread. In Delhi, like pretty much everywhere else in the world, merchants with any business sense at all recognize that the Christmas season is a great time to cash in on the spirit of giving.
But unlike many other places I’ve lived, Christmas in India still retains much of its true spirit. I don’t mean that the entire focus is on the nativity story or that Christmas is seen strictly as a religious holiday; what I mean is that the holiday is generally viewed as an excuse to spend some time at home with the people you love most, and hopefully have a good time doing it. And while your typical North Indian Christmas season may be void of ugly sweater competitions, raucous office parties, and maxed out credit cards, it still has a festive, family-focused feel to it. Presents are not central to the celebrations, and outside of Christian communities, giving gifts is not all that common. (It’s actually more common during Diwalli, the festival of light, which has unfortunately become increasingly materialistic over the years.)
Social and familial bonds are integral to daily life in India, and any festivity that gives people the opportunity to deepen their social ties (and maybe have a party in the process) is welcomed by most communities with open arms. Christmas is no exception.