Christmas in India: Kerala
In the southwestern state of Kerala many Christians belong to Eastern churches, like the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Egyptian Coptic Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Abyssinian Church. Others are Roman Catholic. The Eastern churches observe somewhat different rites than those observed by Western Christians, that is, Roman Catholics and Protestants. For example, those belonging to the Syriac Orthodox Church observe Advent by fasting. For the four weeks preceding Christmas they abstain from eating meat, fish, and milk products.
In the last week before Christmas, many Christian children in Kerala spend an evening singing Christmas carols from door to door. They carry with them candle-lit lanterns hanging from the ends of poles (for a similar custom, see star boys). These beacons, raised aloft, cast a warm glow on the band of roving musicians who visit the homes of those who work at the church schools. Many decorate the out-sides of their homes with oil lamps during this week.
People gather at churches on Christmas Eve, where celebrations begin, accompanied by ringing bells, exploding firecrackers, and pipe and drum music. They go home after the services, but gather again at around three in the morning for religious processions honoring the birth of Jesus. Worshipers carry crosses, torches, flags, lit candles, and richly decorated ceremonial umbrellas. Priests in formal robes also march in the procession. They chant religious verses in the Syriac language, covered by canopies held aloft on poles by devout believers. The processions end at the church. Then everyone files inside for a Christmas morning service that concludes at dawn.
On Christmas Day people leave off fasting and celebrate with rich and delicious foods, including meat curry and bread made with rice flour and coconut paste. Visits to the homes of relatives also take place.