Hyderabad: It's time for fun and frolic for the Anglo-Indian community as they prepare to celebrate Christmas in their unique style. 'Little England', as South Lalaguda area here is known, has come alive with carol singing, Christmas trees and a host of other events associated with the festival.
From advent season, which starts a month before Christmas, to wine and cake making at homes to the Christmas Ball, it is merrymaking time for the Anglo-Indian community, mostly concentrated in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad.
Notwithstanding their dwindling numbers, the Anglo-Indians have hung on to their traditional rituals, which set them apart from other Christians.
Braving the evening chill, a group of young men and women playing guitars and banjos go around, singing carols as part of the preparations to welcome the birth of Jesus.
"This is part of the advent season, which begins four Sundays before Christmas. They carry the spirit of Christmas to homes by informing them about the birth of Christ," Gerard Charles Carr, a community elder said.
The number of people taking part in carol singing has however come down in recent years.
"Carol singing is on the way out because of the level of interest among youngsters has come down," noted Hilary Platel, general secretary, Anglo-Indian Association.
Community leaders say the rituals they perform are both religious and cultural. With majority of them of European descent, Anglo-Indians celebrate the Christmas more like the way it is celebrated in Europe.
With many members of the community migrating to England, Australia and other countries during last two to three decades, Christmas serves as a reunion. "People catch up with old times as relatives from different parts of the world come home for the celebrations," said Christine Lazarus, a former nominated member of Andhra Pradesh legislative assembly.
"The community is right now engaged in so many activities. Cleaning and painting of houses to prepare for the birth of Christ. Then there is a Christmas tree for children, lovely games and prizes to be won. Every day brings so many events and a riot of colours," said Lazarus, who was the nominated legislator from the community for three terms.
The merrymaking starts with midnight mass in churches on the night of Dec 24. The community members visit the houses of relatives and friends and wish them.
There are family lunches and get-togethers. "Christmas is synonymous with cakes. Every house invariably will have a Christmas cake. There will be other sweets as well," said Carr, who is treasurer of All India Federation of Anglo-Indian Associations.
"We make traditional food and sweets and dress beautifully. The dress is not Western. Anglo- Indians are not Western. They have something of their own, which makes them unique," said Lazarus.
Wine-making is also an integral part of the celebrations. Every family brews the wine, mostly made from grapes.
"It is a sweet wine taken in little quantity. People make different types of wines but it will only be for consumption at home," said Carr. The revelry reaches its zenith in the evening with a dance party. The community members say it came with the British culture.
At the dance, it is not just Anglo-Indians but people from other communities also hit the floor. This year Vanny Bourne, a singer and an Anglo-Indian settled in Australia, will be performing live at the Ball to be organized by the Anglo-Indian Welfare Association.
At the Ball, there will be a dance competition and also the contests for King and Queen.
The spirit of Christmas that starts on Christmas eve continues till the New Year.
Lazarus also pointed out that this is also the time for many marriages in the community as families scattered in different parts of the world come together for the festival.
The community is jovial and loves to share fun and happiness with all. "But life is not a joke for us. Day and night, we work hard," said Lazarus.
Majority of Anglo-Indians work in railways, the postal department and defence. Carr points out that while a large number migrated to other countries 20-30 years ago, many in the new generation are keen to stay back due to good prospects available in India and the improvement in living standards.
The community has also produced professionals in various disciplines like modelling with the most famous being former Miss World Diana Hayden. Young educated Anglo-Indians are taking up jobs in teaching and information technology sectors.
The youngsters, with English as their mother tongue, are employed in the BPO call centres in this IT hub. "They use their language talent well. This is a god-given talent," said Lazarus.
The population of Anglo-Indian in twin cities are estimated to be around 8,000 and about five lakh in the country.
The majority of Anglo-Indians here reside in Secunderabad, which came into existence as in 1798 as a cantonment for British troops. It transformed into an English town, where the Anglo-Indians rubbed shoulders with Parsis, Sikhs and other communities from different parts of India who came to settle down here.