Festivals bring Indians together in celebration

India as a nation has always welcomed differences which, I believe, is also its core strength. Ideas and religions from outside have found acceptance here

By Simran Sodhi

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Published: Tue 20 Dec 2022, 11:04 PM

The distant sound of Christmas carols fills the air as the sun soaks the balcony on this pleasantly cold December morning. A dash to the markets means running into Christmas trees and 'snowmen' of all sizes staring at you. In a city that never gets snow, 'snowmen' are a delight to see. And when Christmas decorations light up the markets, especially in the evenings, one know it’s that time of the year.

In India, fall brings months of non-stop festivity. The nine days of Navratri are followed by Dussehra and Diwali, signifying the victory of good over evil. And then we roll into the Christmas spirit and wait for Santa Claus and our gifts. This is a unique glue that binds Indians together, where they celebrate all festivals with equal joy and fervour. So while we all decorate our homes with lights on Diwali, a much awaited Christmas lunch brings together family and friends for joy and laughter.

According to the Religion Census of 2011, Christians in India constitute about 2.3 per cent of the entire population which is almost 30 million people. Hindus are a majority at 79.8 per cent, or almost 970 million, followed by Muslims at 14.23 per cent, which is a little more than 170 million. It then is real magic that despite the glaring differences in the numbers and percentages, when it comes to the festive spirit, all festivals usher in the same joy and excitement. Nothing else, in my opinion, can quite define the secular fabric of this nation better than this spirit.

It also gets reflected in food and how the cuisines change as the festivals arrive. The markets get laden with sweets around Diwali and around Eid, Biryani is all one can think of. Similarly, during this time of the year, Christmas cakes get an extra dollop of cream and every coffee shop entices one with a large slice of cake.

It is also important to understand all this in the backdrop of India being a secular state. Broadly, a secular state is one where there is a separation of the Church and the State; in other words, where every citizen has a right to practice any faith of their choice. And that is why, despite all its social and economic problems, India remains one of the most diverse and secular nations in the world.

Culture, I would like to add, has also played a most constructive role here. According to findings published by the Pew Research Centre in 2021, a substantial number of Indian Christians follow religious practices and beliefs not traditionally associated with Christianity. For example the belief in the theory of Karma (an action, deed or work and its consequences) which is a strong belief in Hinduism. Then many Indian Christians also believe in reincarnation and in the purifying powers of the River Ganges. Again beliefs, that are not rooted in Christianity, but are more in sync with Hinduism. However, I would argue that these beliefs are more Indian in their nature and have less to do with any religion.

India as a nation has always welcomed differences which, I believe, is also its core strength. So when ideas and religions have come from outside, they have found acceptance here. And in a natural exchange these foreign ideas have become local. And the local has been enriched with an influx of the new. The 'outside' has always mingled with the native, and that is also why one senses this great joy as Churches light up and Santa comes riding in a snowless city.

For many of us it is also a time to slide back into childhood and nostalgia. Convents and Sisters, and the buzz in school before Christmas holidays; putting on one’s best clothes for the big day and scattering pieces of white cotton in the school premises to signal snow. And the high-pitched carol singing, which often drove everyone at home mad.

So whether we celebrate Christmas this year in real snow or make-believe cotton snow, what is important is that we all celebrate it together. As a nation of peoples with different beliefs and politics, let us thank Santa for bringing us joy and the message of love. It indeed is the wonderful time of the year.

- The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

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