Possibly one of the best times to get your party on in Goa is at Christmas time. Goa offers the best combination of traditional and religious observances and parties ranging from formal dances to riotous beach parties.
Goan Christianity being rooted in Portuguese traditions, there is a distinctly European flavour to the festivities with a lot of importance being given to traditional family gatherings, both for a sumptuous Christmas dinner and to attend midnight mass at the local church.
The churches are splendidly decked out for the festive season, and it’s not just them either. People of all religions join in the festivities, and shops and other places of business are usually festooned with decorations, whilst the windows are often painted with Christmassy scenes, notwithstanding the fact that it never snows in Goa.
The festival of Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, who is believed to have been the Son of God in human form. The festivities highlight the birth of Jesus in a lowly stable in Bethlehem, showing his humility and poverty; the proclamation of the holy birth to the shepherds by the choir of angels, and the appearance of the star, to mark the birth of a king. Read more +
The story starts with Archangel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, asking her if she would be willing to bear the Son of God. Mary, being a devout woman, agreed to this and conceived of the child, without ever having known a man. She was, at the time, betrothed to Joseph, who was a carpenter.
Now in those days, the punishment for pre-marital sex was public stoning. When Joseph heard that Mary was pregnant, being a decent man, he decided to simply call off the engagement, without giving any reason to everyone, so that she would be spared. However, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and explained that she had not been unfaithful, but was in fact carrying out the will of God.
Joseph then married Mary and agreed to be the foster father of Jesus Christ. It was at this time that Augustus Caesar, the Roman Emperor, decided to take the first ever census. In order to be registered, the people had to go to their hometown. For Joseph this was Bethlehem, in Judea. Since Mary was his wife, she too had to travel alongside him. Thus it came about that a heavily pregnant Mary, astride a donkey journeyed to Bethlehem from Nazareth, not an easy task in those times.
However, when they reached Bethlehem they found (much like Goa in December) all the inns were full and there was no room for them. Mary was going into labour and they were getting pretty desperate, when an innkeeper offered them the use of his stable. Jesus was born in a stable and wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, amidst the “gentle beasts”.
On the outskirts of Bethlehem, shepherds were keeping guard over their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, they looked up to see an angel in the sky, who told them not to be startled because she was bringing joyful tidings of the birth of the Saviour. Suddenly the angel was joined by a choir of angels singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus, bonnae voluntatis” i.e. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” The angels told the shepherds that they would find the “Heavenly Babe” in a stable, marked by a bright new star.
Thus, the first to adore the new-born baby was his mother, then the animals in the stable and finally the shepherds. This story illustrates Jesus’ divine heritage and his humble beginnings.
Most people enjoy attending the midnight mass which is held in most parish churches, often starting around 10pm on the 24th evening. The choir sings Christmas carols and the readings and Gospel centre around the nativity story.
There are also masses held on the 25th morning, for those who prefer not to attend a night service. Additionally, for about a week preceding Christmas, carol singers go from place to place, singing carols and usually having a collection box, the proceeds of which are given to the less fortunate so that they also have a little Christmas cheer.
Decorations and Feasts
The making of Christmas sweets starts weeks in advance of the actual event. Most people prepare milk creams, fudge, kulkuls (crunchy, bite-sized, rolled up biscuits), neuries (a crisp flaky pastry shell stuffed with raisins and coconut), nankatais (crumbly biscuits), and a rich fruit cake (generally made in the European style with plenty of dried fruit and lashings of booze). These sweets are often distributed to friends and neighbours in little boxes and baskets.
The sweets are the least of the mouth-watering delicacies prepared. Traditional dishes at this time include sorpotel, vindalho and full-roasted chickens or turkeys, as well as spicy, savoury curries and pulao.
Houses are decorated with Christmas trees festooned with tiny bells, angels, Santas, stockings, candy canes, snowflakes, icicles, stars, tinsel and lights. Most Catholics also construct a crib depicting the stable where Jesus was born. This nativity scene, if done on a small scale may just include the holy family or, more usually also include the angel and shepherds. The three kings are usually added in later. Some people give their cribs a modern twist, with tall buildings, and unusual animals, whilst others are more realistic with wheat germ grass and sand.
There are dances organized on the 25th night. These dances are formal affairs, with men in suits and ladies in all their finery. The bands play waltzes, jives, foxtrots and salsas and usually the evening winds up with DJ music being played and everyone shedding their inhibitions to dance along frenziedly. Dinner and drinks are usually served at these functions, for which one is required to buy a pass, usually, a couple’s pass. Being Goa, there are also parties at every club and pub and the best fun is usually to be had at the beach parties, which carry on late into the night.