Thiruvananthapuram: The first signs that Christmas is around the corner in Kerala comes in early December, when the mercury dips slightly. That's when the morning stroll becomes a pleasant experience. Churches and Christian homes begin to put up the traditional Christmas stars, in varying sizes and shapes. Cribs are put up in the second week of December. Now-a-days, these are often ready-made.
Nearly 22 percent of the state's population is Christian, an estimated 32 million people. "Times have changed, so have customs. Gone are the days when the entire family used to get together to make wine, pickles and other food items. These days, who has the time; and then, where are the people to do those things," asks 75-year-old Santhamma Joseph, a grandmother in Kottayam.
The districts of central Kerala, like Kottayam, are home to a large number of Christians. "These days, the youth get set to conduct the traditional carol singing. Members of the church choirs go to the homes of parishoners to sing Christmas carols, and the families usually offer these groups a little money once the singing is done. This year, we are targeting a net of Rs 2 lakh from the carol service. The money collected will be used as a reserve fund for the youth activities," said Anish Jacob, an IT professional and convenor of the church choir of his church in Thiruvananthapuram.
Catholics are the dominant group, comprising 50 percent of the state's Christians. Orthodox Christians are the second-largest denomination in the state, with a population of around 2.5 million. Members of the Jacobite, Mar Thoma, Church of South India and Pentecostal churches make up the rest.
At Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's official residence in the capital city, a 10-foot-tall Christmas tree has been put up, and the Christmas crib is ready too. The 70-year-old mansion is all decked up for the festival, perhaps the first time it has seen such decoration. The only other Christian Chief Minister the state has had, A K Antony, who also lived in this home as CM, was renowned for parsimony and spartan in his Christmas celebrations.
Kerala State Beverages Corporation, the sole wholesalers of liquor and beer in the state, are busy making special preparations for Christmas. All 383 retail outlets of the corporation will be stocked to capacity, in anticipation of Christmas. Bursting of crackers on Christmas eve is a recent practice, limited to the central districts of the state. In other parts, the festival is marked by more subdued festivities, with traditional cuisine and the popular Christmas cake.
"We have started baking cakes on a limited scale, and work will peak by the end of next week. Last year we could not meet the demand. This year, we are better prepared," says the owner of a popular bakery in Thiruvalla city, which is thickly populated with Christians.