Christmas in Karnataka

Christmas in Karnataka

Christmas celebrations take on a different hue in Karnataka with colourful markets, illuminated churches and lip-smacking delicacies, write Dorothy Victor, Florine Riche

An illuminated St. Mary's Basilica on Christmas eve in Bengaluru

Karnataka is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in South India with its rich cultural and historical heritage. It gets an added and unique glitter in the chill winter days of December when the nip in the air mingles with the Christmas spirit of the people to create a magical atmosphere. Some of its cities get decked up for the festivity and Christmas celebrations are most palpable. Here are a few such places in Karnataka, where the local celebration of Christmas is a treat for any tourist.

In the IT city of Bengaluru

In this buzzing, capital city considered the IT hub of the country, the vibe, together with its distinct traditions, gives a truly remarkable ambiance. The many elite malls and most other stores are brightly lit and fancifully decorated with buntings, tinsel, cribs and Christmas trees. The many imposing churches built in magnificent European architecture enhance the atmosphere as they are all lit up and glow in the night. Vigil masses at the various churches ringing in the celebration and touching the essence of Christmas, which is joy, peace and goodwill, draw the vast Christian community across the city on the eve of Christmas.

A Christmas manger set up in Bengaluru
A Christmas manger set up in Bengaluru

Vigil services in some churches located in Central Bengaluru popular for their rich tradition and impressive arrangements include:

* St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral,
Frazer Town

* St. Patrick’s Church, Brigade Road

* Holy Ghost Church, Richards town

* Infant Jesus Church, Viveknagar

* St. Mary’s Basilica, Shivajinagar

* St. Marks’s Cathedral, MG Road

* East Parade Church, Ashok Nagar 

Besides the spiritual splendour, Christmas offers a wide range of cuisines and activities for the season. Christmas brunch consisting of a large spread is on the cards in most upmarket restaurants. Coffee shops and bakeries load their racks with kuswar (unique Christmas goodies) while all other eateries offer special Christmas dishes through the season. Special events such as carol singing performances, staging the Nativity scenes and cake shows (the most popular being the annual Nilgiris Cake Show) are organised throughout the city which attract large crowds. Christmas in Bengaluru is wholly colourful, spirit-filled and completely merry and joyful.

Royal vibes in Mysuru

Christmas in Mysuru, a city ranked as one of the top clean cities in the country, is delightful. The vigil service conducted in St. Philomena’s Cathedral located in northern Mysuru on the buzzing Ashoka Road offers the best vigil service for Christmas. The stunning church, built in Neo-Gothic style and credited to be one of the largest cathedrals in South Asia, is colourfully lit and well decorated. Other churches, too, are decked up for Christmas and special arrangements are made for the occasion.

People celebrate Christmas in St. Philomena's Church in Mysuru
People celebrate Christmas in St. Philomena's Church in Mysuru

In recent times, the city has hosted a carnival during the Christmas season. Entertainment that covers live dance performances, carol singing, artworks and lightning, flea market and other games are showcased. Fashion stalls dotted along the streets and the gastronomical treats that one can relish from the city’s eateries offer a wonderful Christmas celebration for all.

Amidst the hills in Chikkamagaluru

For those who prefer some soulful celebration, the quiet town of Chikkamagaluru, about 250 km from Bengaluru, is the ideal destination. Renowned for its coffee plantations, scenic beauty and many hill stations in close proximity, spending Christmas in the midst of the rich flora and fauna that the town is blessed with is enriching and enchanting.

Further, the vigil service at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the central part of the town is a great spiritual experience. The church and the convent run by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s of Tarbes within the premises are lit up and fancifully decorated with a crib and Christmas tree. The beautiful landscape of the place comes alive with the celebrations and one can combine plenty of sight-seeing along with Christmas celebrations!

Along the coast, in Mangaluru

Come December and Mangaluru, or ‘Rome of the East’, decks up to revel in the celebrations of the two back-to-back festivals — Christmas, closely followed by New Year celebrations. With a sizeable Christian population in the coastal districts of Udupi and Mangaluru, which are also home to some of the most spectacular and grand old churches, Christmas celebrations hold a special charm in this part of the coastal region of Karnataka. Christmas fever and flavour grips the city for the entire month of December and subsides only after the New Year revelry.

Mangaluru gets into the festive mood in the very beginning of December, signalling that Christmas is in the offing. The celebrations start with shopping for new clothes, curtains, upholstery for the crib, and preparing Christmas delicacies. Brightly lit malls, shops, roads decorated with colourful stars and lights, areas festooned with Christmas trees, shops teeming with Christmas cards and the ubiquitous Santa Claus pictures — all these add grace, charm and vibrancy to the festivities. Most bakers begin to stockpile special Christmas delicacies and their aroma wafts through the air, adding another dimension to the festivities.

Christmas prayers in Rosary Church, Mangaluru
Christmas prayers in Rosary Church, Mangaluru

One cannot miss the sight of luminous churches decorated with stars and colourful lights and Christmas cribs. Of course, Christmas carols also fill the air; church choirs practice in full enthusiasm and devotion for the Christmas vigil mass on Christmas eve and Christmas day. Some of the churches you could visit in Mangaluru include Rosario Cathedral, St. Joseph’s Seminary, St. Sebastian’s Church, Lady Hill Convent, and more.

Many houses also prepare Christmas cribs using all their creativity in order to make them more attractive even while retaining its essence. Parishes hold Christmas crib competitions as an incentive to parishioners to come out with some ingenious Christmas cribs. Such cribs are really a sight to behold!

For those who want to get a first-hand feel of traditional Christmas, Mangaluru is the perfect destination. Be it the sounds of the chiming of the church bells, the mellifluous notes of the sophisticated Christmas music in the form of carols echoing from all corners, the sparkling and colourful Christmas stars, the flickering lights in shops and streets, churches, homes, convents and other Catholic institutions decorated with miniature lights and colourful twinkling stars, the cribs that showcase the spirit of Christmas typifying the birth of Infant Jesus as the saviour of the masses, the bonhomie associated with the festival with people exchanging sweets and cakes — all these add that authentic touch to the X’mas celebrations in Mangaluru.

Christmas celebrations in Mangaluru are incomplete without the mention of the famed kuswar — a bunch of special delicacies prepared in the coastal region to celebrate Christmas. The rice laddoo — a mixture of rice powder, jaggery and coconut moulded into a delectable laddoo — tops the list along with marbles, kulkuls, newries, rose cookies, etc. It is said that there are 20 types of kuswar. Although preparing kuswar is a time-consuming process, many families still make them the traditional way because it is tastier and lasts longer as compared to the readymade cookies available in the market.