Indians Celebrate Christmas Despite Threat of Hindu Extremists

Festive Christmas celebrations were held across India this week despite the looming threat of attacks by Hindu extremists, who disrupted Christmas Masses and vandalized churches last year.

India’s population is about 80 percent Hindu, 14 percent Muslim, and a little over two percent Christian. Last year’s Yuletide season saw Hindu extremists attack churches with clubs and stones, assaulting both pastors and congregants. Vandals destroyed statues of both Jesus and Santa Claus.

Christian groups found Indian police slow to respond to complaints about vandalism and violence. India’s governing party, BJP, is frequently criticized for promoting Hindu nationalism and turning a blind eye to the actions of extremists.

Another concern this year is the resurgence of Chinese coronavirus, particularly the massive surge of infections in China. Christmas, New Year, and Lunar New Year combine to make the winter a busy travel season across Asia. Indian authorities have been guardedly optimistic so far about keeping the Chinese coronavirus surge at bay and have not yet announced any travel or gathering restrictions.

The Hindu reported on Friday that Indian Christians are undeterred, putting up decorations that often combine Indian style with Christmas traditions like nativity scenes. The Directorate of Art and Culture in the state of Goa sponsors a competition each year for nativity sets, with entries ranging from decades-old family heirlooms to huge, mechanized displays. Some are made from local materials with distinctive Indian stylistic touches.

“Vintage Nativity sets have many takers on Etsy, where antique collectibles can cost anything from ₹3,000 to more than ₹2 lakh for a Nativity set made of olive wood from Bethlehem, believed to the birthplace of Jesus Christ,” the Hindu reported. The amount 2 lakh (200,000) rupees would be almost $2,500.

India has unique Christmas poems, songs, foods, and traditions. A new book called Indian Christmas: Essays, Memories, Hymns compiles many of these special local touches, from Kolkata’s delightfully over-the-top Christmas parades to holiday feasts that include “orange ginger roast chicken with fennel and radicchio salad, grilled mutton in mint sauce and blanched fish in leek sauce and broccoli mornay.”

“Unlike a lot of countries where Christmas has one flavor, India has the advantage of a good deal of regional diversity. So we really don’t have one type of Christmas celebration, but many variations,” mused Indian Christmas editor Madhulika Liddle.

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