Thiruvananthapuram: The Christmas trees are up, choir practice sessions are on in right earnest, bakers are planning their culinary best and the truly devout are immersed in prayers - the yuletide spirit has already set in and Christians in Kerala are doing all it takes to ring in the Christmas cheer.
The various churches that dot Kerala`s cities and towns have drawn out their plans for the festival season.
"Like in the past, our church choir has been practising the usual songs that are sung during the Christmas season. We are having special practice sessions," said Annie Jacob, a homemaker in Kochi.
"This time also we have planned special carol services when our team will visit the homes of all our members. The collections from our carol service will go for charity," she added.
Most Christian homes are ready with their Christmas trees, the decorations to go on them and the shining stars that are placed right on top and outside homes.
Districts in central Kerala - home to a large number of Christians who make up 22 percent of the state`s 32 million population - mark the event with maximum fanfare.
Catholics are the dominant group, comprising 50 percent of Christians in the state, followed by the Orthodox Church with a population of around 2.5 million. Jacobites, Mar Thoma, the Church of South India and the Pentecostal churches make up the rest.
A trip to a bakery is bound to make you give in to temptations - most of them have an array of cakes, cookies and savouries lined up.
Carols and goodies apart, for the spiritually-conscious Christians like Jose Kiran, the season is a time to observe the Christmas Lent, where devout Christians forgo all non-vegetarian food. Kiran said he will be fully immersed in prayers for the next four days.
"We have a prayer camp where fasting prayers are held and I feel it would cleanse not only one`s body but also one`s mind. Today, unlike in the past, I find that the younger generation does not observe the Lent with utmost seriousness," he said.
Christmas is also the time for family reunions and meeting friends and relatives. But the poor condition of the roads due to unseasonal rains is a travel concern for many.
"The extended seasonal rains have played spoilsport because the roads across the state are in an appalling condition, making driving a near impossible task. If the rains don`t go away, then those travelling during Christmas season are in for a bad time," said K.J. John, a retired engineer here eagerly waiting for his children to come from the Middle East.
Also, people are missing the morning mist and the slight chill associated with the Christmas season.
"The morning winter chill, which arrives by November end, is yet to make its presence felt...Bonfires are normally seen in almost every household during the month of December... Without the winter chill, Christmas would just not be the same," said C.M. Kurian, a farmer in Kottayam.
It is only during the month of December that the mercury drops and falls below 20 degrees Celsius in the central districts of Kerala.
But despite the rains and the lack of the winter chill, there is much cheer as the rubber prices are on a high.
"Christmas revelry in households is for long directly related to rubber prices. When the rubber price goes up, it brings a lot of cheer," said K. Punnoose, whose main income is from his homestead rubber plantation in Kottayam.
"In December 2008, the price of rubber was a mere Rs.65 per kg, last Christmas it shot up to Rs.138 and now it has crossed Rs.180, which means Keralites can expect a good Christmas bash," he added.
The government too has stocked up liquor vends for the merrymaking the month will see.
Last year, the state-owned Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC), the lone wholesalers of beer and Indian-made foreign liquor, had record sales of over Rs.450 crore (Rs.4.5 billion) during the month of December. And this time, sales are bound to cross Rs.500 crore, an official said.