Delhi jingles all the way

  • Mallica Joshi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: Dec 25, 2011 01:51 IST

Christmas of the yore was a family affair, involving singing carols and philanthropy. Commercial interests have taken over the festival today, with people associating Christmas with Santa Claus rather than Jesus Christ. Sunil Ghosh/HT photo

Over the years, the character of Christmas in the city has transformed. While it is widely believed that a sizeable number of Christians migrated to Delhi from Agra during Shah Jahan's reign (1627-58), Christmas came to be recognised as an important festival in the city only in the late 1800s with the opening up of various missionary schools and colleges in the city.

But the Christmas of 1911 was different. It was only after New Delhi became the imperial Capital of the country that Christmas here became more participatory.

"In 1911, a number of people from different religious, cultural and social backgrounds came to the city. My father told me that the first Christmas after New Delhi became the Capital was a grand affair for all Christian and non-Christian families," said Sidney Rebeiro, whose family moved to New Delhi in 1909 and is one of the oldest Anglo-Indian families that still reside in the city.

With the passing of years, the participation of people from all faiths also increased. "Christmas was welcomed by the city into its fold with open arms. It was a festival celebrated by all and still remains so. But at that time, the attendance in churches would only be Christian. Not many from other faiths came to the midnight mass or morning service," said Jacob Mathias, 73, whose father moved to the city in 1946.

Most old-timers remember Christmas as a festival to be spent with the family.

"It was about family, togetherness and doing good deeds. So most families would come together on Christmas no matter where they were during the rest of the year. They would go carolling from one household to another and make donations to the poor and the unfortunate," Mathias added.

Today, it is the festival's commercialisation most take an exception to.

"Christmas is less about Jesus Christ and more about Santa Claus. Add to this the fact that most don't understand what Santa Claus stands for. He is supposed to signify benevolence and a spirit of giving, something that we tend to ignore," said Ordained Sasimanual of the Cathedral Church of the Redemption.

It is this commercialisation of the festival that puts most Christians off today.

"All you see in the name of Christmas are parties, brunches and Santa caps. Christmas was about community and family and we have moved away from that. The service inside the church has remained the same, but it is on the outside that the change is drastic," said Reverend Mohit Hitter of the St James Church, Kashmere Gate.

But it is this commercialisation that has given the church an opportunity to make its presence felt.

"Our church choir gets a chance to perform in big malls and public areas - an opportunity that would not be afforded to us had Christmas not become such a commercialised affair. Having said that, it is most important to bring the family back to the image of Christmas," Hitter added.

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