IT’S CHRISTMAS IN MUMBAI! And I am in Bandra!By Joanne Pinto Pereira

Damian showroom near St Andrew’s Church, Bandra.

By Joanne Pinto Pereira

Carol singing, Christmas tree parties for kids, gala dances, decor to uplift your spirits and so much more. Christmas is now a universal community goodwill festival. Here’s a peek into the Maximum city that never sleeps while Santa spreads his cheer! Watch out, you better be good!

COME December 1 and you know the countdown to Christmas begins. The busy junction near St Andrew’s Church Bandra has welcome relief thanks to the Damian furniture showroom windows dressed with panels depicting the Nativity, Christmas and winter scenes. They attract hordes of visitors eager to snap up selfies and soak in the ambient fervour in Mumbai’s “Queen of Suburbs” which has quite a Christmas time history.
The season ushers in sold out festivities like Daryn Das and his crew who get the St Andrew’s Audi to a stomping start! There’s a magical transformation, windows dressed to attract and make a festive statement and the tunes of a make-belief white Christmas in warm Mumbai abound. Bright red and creamy white poinsettias color the palate of nurseries and handcarts along with live Christmas trees.
Droves of shoppers descend on this predominant pocket of the Catholic community leaving erstwhile downtown locations quieter. It’s also midway for the families that have migrated to Malad and further on. Hill Road bustles with dedicated shops that burst with Christmas decor, battery operated Santas that wiggle whilst playing “Jingle Bells” on a shiny gold saxophone vie with street vendors who lay out cardboard cribs, and street urchins with happy grins pushing their wares alongside.
The universal season now sees corporate celebrations competing for the Christmas staples Christmas and attracting hampers are a big business. Meanwhile the by lanes of hamlets like Ranwar and Sherly Rajan gear up for the festival that announces the birth of Jesus Christ. The entire area takes on a festive look with white stars lit up to symbolise the one that guided the way to the manger that held the new born baby Jesus.
Fairy lights adorn the streets in red and green and spotlights beam on the Basilica of Mount Mary. Each Parish announces crib competitions and gets set for the community to converge on Christmas eve. This has inspired walk tour companies to have dedicated experiences in the locality to soak in the Christmas vibe.

Aromas of home baking waft down the tiny gullies that run dry of the stocks of rum-soaked dry fruit for rich plum cake. Frenzied orders for milk cream and marzipan, kulkuls and rose cookies, goodies to laden the “kuswar” plate do the rounds as do the “last minute” stocking up of supplies at Crawford market. The Bandra aunties take pride in their painstaking variety of creations and it’s a miracle that they can amble to the parish for the midnight mass at 10pm post-heavy duty stirring of guava cheese and gram sweets, aside the feast prep of pork and meat delicacies! It’s another round of aromas that get your olfactory senses salivating as you get set for the 10pm midnight mass in your parish.
The endearing Christmas curtain raiser at Girgaum witnessed a befitting exhibition called “Memoirs of Khotachiwadi & The Odyssey of Faith” by Paul Bhonsle. The reverently maintained ancestral home of James Ferreira, the pioneering force behind Khotachiwadi, was the starting point of his artistic journey two decades back. The quaint hamlet’s character was heightened by his mural depicting Mother Mary with child Jesus seated on a lotus. It is what is identified over two decades as his iconic Russian and Christian celestial imagery. His distinctive Indian touches of elephants holding garlands in salutation to the central deity and the liberal use of 24 carat gold in his oil on surface artworks paid homage to the season of Advent.

Special kids party at WCG, Khar.

Of course local delicacies, decor and gifts, the gallery with a mindful ethos 47A and gusty carol singing. Srila Chatterjee’s Baro Market also pops up in a quaint Bandra cottage setting, to elevate the season’s cheer to the next level! Who can resist the charming Vintage Garden Bazaar in its 4th edition? This combined with the Sassy Songbirds: Ella Castelino and Marie Paul belting the best of Christmas in tandem with Mimosa’s keyboard arrangements. Her special compositions are what transport you to Christmas Land.

HARK the herald angels sing! Glory to the newborn king. You hear various group of young and young at heart sing their hearts out while dusting the boxes of cutters and Christmas decor. Mumbai is treated to the Sikkim choir, the Paranjoti choir at heritage church venues like Afghan Church, the Stop Gaps at NCPA,
Nothing like warming up your heart with age old Carol singing at Willington Catholic Gymkhana, Bandra Gym and Catholic Gym who fervently bring out booklets announcing their month long Christmas programs. Christmas bazaars choc-a-block with kuswar and handcrafted items to fill the proverbial stocking are where you exchange camaraderie with the many visiting folk from family members settled or working overseas.

Carol Singing at NCPA 2023, finale with participating choirs conducted by Alfred D’Souza in the lobby

Stopgaps is now an annual tradition with Alfred D’ Souza conducting multiple choirs from across Mumbai. Closer to Christmas Eve, Convent Avenue, Bandra festooned with fairy lights shuts down for their famously loaded with talent Carol singing showcasing baritones and sopranos as families converge over homemade delicacies like sorpotel and . For a short while you forget small woes like whether you will fit into your saree blouse after all this indulgence. Persuading a seamstress to custom stitch an outfit for the occasion is a cultivated art like the perfect caramel that goes into the rich plum as wedding orders vie for attention. The steady stream of smartly coiffured line up at the midnight Mass indicate that custom couture is still far from extinction, better to maska lagoa the seamstress than spot A Gertie wearing the same Hill Road readymade dress

EVERY hotel worth its hard earned stars puts on its holly wreaths and Christmas ornamentation, gift hampers, and go the extra mile to usher in peak season. Christmas season buffets groaning with stuffed turkey, garde manger delights and marzipan topped deserts. Popular Bombay Sweet Mart version of seasonal delights like the plum ball (non-alcoholic), their twists on coconut ice, a week-long Goan delights at O Pedro and Bombay Canteen festive curating of cocktails caters to the excitement set in for the festive season.

Vintage Garden, Sassy Songbirds, Kothachiwadi

A VISIT to the Archdiocesan Museum of Christian Art is the best way to bring in Gaudete Sunday or the third Sunday of Advent. The Latin word translates as Rejoice which is exactly what the green lung of Mumbai located at the Goregaon seminary does to you. A special walkthrough organised by INTACH’s Heritage Walk brought out the significance of the imagery used through icons and symbols associated with the century old objects collected from various parishes and surfaces of churches. Natasha’s curating was brimming with details that gave us insights to the parallel history of the city.
Interesting nuggets like how the Gothic Gloria church in Byculla was originally a Portuguese-styled structure in Mazagaon, relocated due to the development of the port and how pink is the color of the vestment worn at mass particularly on this day! The enlightening sessions concluded with us singing Feliz Navidade and a slice of rich plum cake.
A rich source of both spiritual objects and traditional cribs is St Paul’s and Prathnalaya in Bandra. For those in central Mumbai the shop located on the Don Bosco Church premises, Matunga has a good range of decor as well.

THE festival is associated with the promise of children being rewarded for being good through the year via St Nicholas at themed parties. Alongside are Christmas gala events, with the one organised for children with special needs at Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana being a heart-clincher in the spirit of giving. It is the joy that lights up their faces and your heart that lets you know that it is really Christmas!

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