Christmas 2023: Anglo-Indian Christmas Tradition
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In our diverse country, where culinary traditions vary across states and communities, every family brings its own unique customs to Christmas celebrations. Some traditions are universal, while others blend local practises into the festive mix. Each family treasures its traditional recipes for the special dishes served on Christmas Day. For the Anglo-Indian community, Christmas delights include the must-have delights of traditional ginger wine, fruit cakes, puddings, rose cookies, and kulkuls.

Christmas is not just a celebration; it's a cherished tradition passed down through generations, fostering a feeling of continuity and unity among the Anglo-Indians in Bengaluru. The commitment to maintaining their unique cultural identity shines through during this festive time, creating a warm and close-knit atmosphere for the community. Despite the community possibly getting smaller over the years due to migration, those who remain in Bengaluru are dedicated to preserving their distinct cultural festivities, especially during Christmas. 

Many Anglo-Indian families had a wine-making legacy in Bengaluru and almost everyone from the neighbourhood and beyond would buy a bottle or two of the ginger or grape wine two decades ago. "Many of us who didn't know how to prepare wine at home would place orders for Christmas months in advance to get our boozy drink for the festive season. Nowadays, it is hard to find anybody who sells them," says Esther Pereira, who lives in Cox Town, Bengaluru.

"Many old bakeries and homecooks who made the most amazing plum cakes during Christmas have closed shop too or don't make them anymore. "Thompson bakery makes the best Christmas plum cakes and this year, they are not making them or taking any orders. It is disheartening and I don't know any other place that sells plum cakes as good as this one," says Andrew Joseph, who grew up and lives in the Cooke Town area of Bengaluru.

Embracing a mix of English and local influences, Anglo-Indians celebrate Christmas by upholding religious traditions and navigating life with humour and resilience. The celebrations start over a month in advance, when the decorations are unpacked or bought to set up the crib and the Christmas tree. The culinary traditions begin with cake-mixing, wine-making, and the preparation of sweets and savoury foods with family and relatives.

The Christmas plum cake is mostly made in advance and by feeding it a mix of rum or whisky every other day until Christmas. "The most enjoyable part is baking the cookies and frying the sweets and savoury foods like kulkuls and rose cookies with family while listening to Christmas carols and nibbling away at cheese platters makes it the best time of the year," says Ashika Wheeler, whose Christmas is incomplete without these rituals.

On Christmas Eve, most households enjoy an array of treats, including kulkuls, rose cookies, coconut sweets, marzipan, doldol, shortbread, and more. As a pre-midnight mass tradition, they indulge in short bites like cutlets, cheese-cherry-pineapple skewers, sausages, and meatballs. Following the midnight mass, everyone relishes a slice of plum cake accompanied by a glass of homemade wine, often crafted from ginger or red grapes. 

Breakfast on Christmas morning usually includes an array of cold cuts, bacon, salted beef, eggs, and bread. Potlucks for lunch are the most-awaited event for Christmas lunch in the Anglo-Indian community. It might usually take place at a different relative's house, which is pre-decided upon every year, where families gather and every household prepares a dish to bring to the huge lunch table that includes bad word curry (meatball curry), pork vindaloo, railway mutton curry, Indian breads, yellow rice, sambal, cucumber salad, puddings, Christmas trifle, and more.

"The evenings of Christmas are fun times with family, friends, and relatives. While glasses of wine, cocktails, and punch make their way, dancing and jiving to the good old songs of the festive season follow. That helps us work up an appetite for a fat dinner afterward. The homemade Christmas roasts are the best because they are marinated for a very long time—a week in advance sometimes," says Cheryl Raj, an IT professional who visits her family in Bengaluru every Christmas from Chennai.

The most-awaited Christmas dinner consists of beef steak with gravy, crumbed lamb chops, Anglo-Indian pork roast or chicken roast, along with Sheperd's pie, grilled veggies, mashed potatoes, breads, and rice. The desserts would include tipsy trifle pudding, bread and butter pudding, caramel custard, poached pears and apples in wine sauce, Christmas pudding, and more.