The ‘Big Day’ in India

Whether religious or not, Christmas is celebrated by the majority of North Americans. It is hard to ignore since immediately after Halloween, the Christmas sales seem to commence.

Shopping malls become a haven of lights, trees and music, and the Christmas spirit can be felt by everyone. It is easy to get caught up in the holiday season so it is important to step back and see how other people in other countries celebrate this day around the world.

The south Asian country of India has an extremely culturally diverse population of over 1.18 billion people. 80 per cent of the Indian citizens practice Hinduism, while Christians make up only 2.3 percent of the population. Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is important to distinguish how Christians and non-Christians celebrate in India.

Jason Neelis, assistant professor for South Asian religions in the religion and culture department fondly reminisced about the year he spent in India over 20 years ago.

“The Indian people have a very inclusive attitude,” he recalled. While in India, Neelis had the opportunity to spend Christmas with both a Hindu family and a Christian family.

Christians living in India will attend mass on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas day. Much like in North America, they will visit with family on December 25th, eat a special meal and exchange gifts. They decorate their homes with wreaths and stars, however Christmas trees are not seen in any homes.

“There was a family and community religious orientation rather than a commercial orientation,” recalled Neelis.

In North America we tend to go overboard with gift-giving, but in India, Neelis recalled receiving a small, simple token gift.

As for Hindus and other non-Christians, Christmas is called Bara Din which means “Big Day.”

“The ‘Big Day’ is fairly minor compared with the major Hindu holidays in the Fall and Spring,” says Neelis. Though it is a national holiday, many people will still work on this day.

“The ‘Big Day’ is acknowledged by non-Christians (the overwhelming majority) as yet another non-specifically Hindu religious holiday on the crowded calendar,” continued Neelis. However, Hindu’s are tolerant of many religions, and will include Christmas in their celebrations occasionally.

Looking at the holiday from a different perspective may help us get less caught up in the flurry of the holiday. Spending time with loved ones is more important than finding the perfect tree, or receiving the perfect gift.