India's sprawling northeast is in a celebration mode, with people preparing for Christmas and welcoming the New Year as shops bank on the Santa Claus to boost their sales amid some improvement in the security situation.
In this picturesque hill station, capital of the predominantly Christian Meghalaya, choir groups belt out carols in churches and public places. The toll of the church bells rent the air.
"This is the season of happiness and rejoicing," Paul Marbaniang, a Baptist church pastor and leader of a choir group, said.
As Judy and Patricia along with their friends belt out the popular carol - "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go" - people like John Sangma and Peter Lyngdoh break into a jig.
"Everybody here is drowned in this yuletide passion," said Sangma, a college student.
Shillong apart, the other Christian dominated states like Mizoram and Nagaland are equally ready for the festivities, the main cities decked up with a wall of sparkling lights, candles in the windows or a lit-up pine tree in the yards.
"What better way to celebrate Christmas and welcome the New Year than lighting the city with Christmas trees and singing carols all night," asked Lily Lalsamliani, a young interior designer in Mizoram's capital Aizawl.
Christmas across the seven northeastern states of about 40 million has always been different from the rest of the country. People from all faiths join the celebrations, strengthening bonds of mutual respect.
With the festivities, consumer spending has shot up.
"The flow of shoppers has increased and we are open till very late. People buy gifts for friends and families as well as fashionable clothes," said Harinder Matoo, manager of a leading shopping mall in Assam's main city Guwahati.
With many shopping arcades coming up in the northeast, shopkeepers were resorting to extraordinary marketing tricks to woo customers.
"You buy goods worth Rs.1,000 and Santa Claus is going to give you a gift amounting to about Rs.500. This new offer has become an instant hit and we are unable to cope with the rush," said Gurinder Singh, caretaker of another shopping mall in Guwahati.
The celebration apart, the catchword in the entire region is peace. This is natural for an area where thousands have died in insurgencies.
"Everybody is impatiently waiting for the Christmas day. Let us all join together in praying for a new dawn of peace and hope in the region," Archbishop of Guwahati Thomas Menamparampil said.
Spurred by the improvement in the law and order front, enterprising business people in Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram are holding special Christmas dinners and parties by planning to rope in Indian and foreign DJs and music bands.
Special prayers would also be held on Christmas night at camps of militant groups in Nagaland. "The underlying theme is peace and along with it rejoicing and partying," a Naga leader said.