Contemplating spending Christmas in India? With a hot and tropical climate during December, India’s premier beaches, a famous party culture, and a Christian population that celebrates the Christmas season with feasting and festivities, Goa should be high on your list of winter travel destinations. Here’s our guide to spending the festive December period in Goa.
Why Christmas in Goa?
India’s smallest state draws big crowds during the Christmas-New Year period, who come for Goa’s unique take on the holidays, comprising a mix of balmy beach-going temperatures with traditional yuletide festivities.
Almost a third of all Goans identify themselves as Catholics, a legacy of more than four centuries of Portuguese rule, and Christianity is highly visible across the region – the extraordinary 17th-century churches and cathedrals at Old Goa are the largest in Asia and every town and village has its own whitewashed parish church.
Christmas celebrations begin in earnest around mid-December with carol singing, concerts, street decorations, illuminated village nativity scenes and Christmas markets. Groups of carol singers, often accompanied by a costumed Santa, roam about raising funds for the community, while colourful five-pointed stars made from paper stretched over a wooden frame are hung outside homes and businesses.
On Christmas Eve many Goan families gather for a traditional feast before attending Midnight Mass at their local church, while Christmas Day is reserved for family and the exchange of gifts at home. In the lead-up to New Year’s Eve, local children get together and make an effigy of an old man which is then torched on a bonfire at midnight, symbolising the end of the old year.
What about the food?
As elsewhere in the world, Christmas in Goa is a time for eating. During the Christmas holidays, you’ll find something for every festive appetite: from conventional roast turkey to sweet, Portuguese-influenced treats such as bebinca (a layer cake made from eggs, flour, coconut milk and butter) to Goa’s special Christmas dodol (a festive, toffee-like sweet), as well as all manner of curry (vindaloo originates from here!) and international staples.
Do Goan churches open for Midnight Mass?
Perhaps the quintessential Goa Christmas experience is attending Midnight Mass, but churches are crammed with locals and it pays to arrive early if you want a seat or even standing room inside.
The celebrations are effusive and visitors are welcomed with open arms but mass often goes on till the early hours, hence the local name Missa de Galo (Cock Crow). Bear in mind that this is a religious celebration so you should dress appropriately in church: ie no beachwear, and shoulders and legs should be covered.
It’s not all about the Christmas celebrations
The Christmas festivities are just one reason to plan a December trip to Goa. This time of year is perfect for lazing on the beaches and dipping into the Arabian Sea, with minimal rainfall and temperatures that climb above 30°C.
When you decide to drag yourself away from the sun loungers, you can always head to a market for a spot of Christmas shopping. Anjuna’s hippie-turned-hyper Wednesday flea market is Goa’s most famous shopping trip, but there are also fun Saturday night markets at Baga and Arpora and cool Christmas markets in Panaji and Margao.
You can continue the spiritual theme back on the beach with a yoga or meditation class on the sand. Goa is a great place to stretch those limbs and align those chakras and you’ll find everything from drop-in classes to long-term yoga retreats. The best places to get involved are Arambol, Mandrem, Assagao and Palolem.