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“Do people in India celebrate New Year?” – this question I am being asked often by my family and friends from Russia. Why? Because Russian people give extremely big importance to this holiday.
First of all, there are up to 2 weeks off from 29-30th December in Russia. Secondly, it’s the greatest memory of childhood for every Russian person: there is Santa (he called Ded Moroz and he has a granddaughter Snegurochka with him – but concept overall is almost the same), which brings you gifts in kindergarten/school celebrations (which are usually costume parties) and after at home (at midnight of the New Year night). There is Christmas tree, a lot of other decorations everywhere, a lot of snow and snow games, a lot of fireworks at New Year midnight and people prepare a lot of food, being very happy, congratulate each other, after there are movies on the topics of New Year and Christmas on TV for few days, many concerts of celebrities, people keep visiting each other for few days (some other holidays follow New Year as well). This is surely the biggest holiday in Russia.
Christmas isn’t given such big importance, it’s given more religious importance in Russia: religious people go to churches in mornings, some people can have a family dinner. As we all know, in Russia and few other Orthodox Christian countries, such as Ukraine, Serbia, Israel, Greece etc., people do celebrate Christmas on 7th January and many people don’t understand why. As an ethnographer I will reply: the reason for that is because now we use Gregorian calendar while when Jesus was born, people used Julian calendar. They had the difference of about 2 weeks. So 7th January was 25th December by Julian Calendar. When calendar has changed, Orthodox decided to keep the day when it happened and Catholics the date (but there is not need to fight about it now). I have heard people calling it “Russian Christmas” and this isn’t correct. Because of the calendar thing, there is even the holiday named Old New Year in Russia on midnight from 13th to 14th Juanuary – the date of the New Year by Julian Calendar, but it isn’t celebrated much (just some fun with costume dressing, and not everyone does it).
So, what about India? Do people celebrate Christmas and New Year in India and if yes, then how? Well, obviously, not so widely like in Europe, United States, Latin America or Russia – the countries with a majority of Christian people in general, but they do. There are the Christian (Catholic) people in India too, though less. But not only they do celebrate Christmas here. Since there are representatives of most worlds religions in India, they are respectful and curious about each other’s holidays, trying to take a participation in them.
However, Christmas has become more popular for Indians because of American movies. People don’t have the same feelings about Christmas like “western countries” (that’s how they call it) obviously and they mostly just go out somewhere to celebrate, making their children dressed in Santa costumes or Santa caps at least – kids are being taught about these holidays in schools now, however – some kids here can start crying if they see “big Santa” in shopping mall. Indians do also put Christmas trees in few public places but not as many as we are used to: it usually happens in shopping malls or some restaurants but not at city squares or streets and not at homes usually. Also decorations for Christmas trees apparently sold in much smaller quantities (of course, obviously, no natural trees) and people usually have 1-3 days off at work.
The celebration of Christmas in India didn’t take on too large sizes and significance, New Year’s celebration as well: on New Years Ave young people mostly go out to party with their friends, people with kids can go to shopping malls, elderly people don’t celebrate it just usually.
So Christmas and New Year celebrations are considered some sort of fancy or modern things for most of the Indians (apart from Christian Indians, I believe, though I have not met any yet). And people pick up the ideas of it from American movies usually.
In India, the most important holiday of the year is Diwali. It is traditionally a religious festival, it’s called the Festival of Lights. In some countries, people call Diwali as the Indian New Year, but the Indians themselves don’t agree with this description. Diwali is happening in October or November (dates is changeable). During this holidays people here have a few days off and they spend it with their families and close people, give each other gifts, decorate almost all the buildings with garlands outside for almost a month before as well (there is Dussera before too), and inside with candles and drawings of colored sand, fire up the fireworks (and not just for 5-10 minutes, but for several hours and even days, which leads to severe air pollution and different laws about this every year). So it is in many things similar to Christmas celebrations in Europe and New Year celebrations in Russia and Ukraine.