Agra: The cosmopolitan legacy of the former Mughal capital Agra is still going strong. The number of Christians in the city has dwindled to just a few thousand, but there is no discernible decline in the fervour for Christmas celebrations which have now taken a commercial hue.
Hotels, eateries, clubs are all gearing up for the Christmas Eve parties.
"In our hotel the celebrations will continue for a whole week till the New Year," says Paritosh Ladani, executive director of Radisson. "We have big surprises for our guests," Paritosh told reporters, adding cakes and ale are an integral part of everything associated with Yuletide.
In most Christian homes, like in the Padri Tola colony near Ghatia, the shining stars have already appeared with decorative illuminations. Some people have put up `jhankis` of baby Jesus in the crib, on the lines of baby Krishna on Janamashtami by the Hindus.
The chief centre of attraction, however, remains the imposing Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1848 on Wazirpura Road. It has a huge depiction of the little Baby of Bethelehem, his parents, the shepeherds and the three wise men of the East who brought gifts, alongwih the models of animals. It is said to have been made in 19th century Italy on orders of the Italian Capuchin fathers in charge of the Agra Diocese.
It is the midnight mass at the Cathedral and other churches that draws the faithful, heralding the beginning of the celebrations.
Over the years, Christmas celebrations in Agra, as in many other parts of the country, have taken on a local hue and flavour. A sari clad Virgin Mary under a peepal tree with Joseph attired as an Indian farmer no longer surprise the faithfuls.
"Rather, the shedding away of western frills has brought the faith closer to the locals` hearts," notes Dr Neville Smith.