Rejoicing & Reflection: Anglo Indians Celebrate Christmas In Odisha’s Jatni

By- Md. Mojahid Raza

Jatni: Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of god and family and to create memories that will last forever. The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love, generosity and goodness. It waves a magic wand over the earth and everything becomes softer, more beautiful. In short, Christmas isn’t a mere festival or a season, it is an emotion.

Although Christmas is celebrated with much gaiety and fanfare all across the state, the festival has a unique charm in Jatni, a quite little town on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. Home to the largest Anglo Indian population in Odisha, Jatni boosts of some marvellous British-era structures including the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church (1892), the Bethel Chapel Convent (1936), Odia Baptist Church (1926) and St. John’s Church in Wilderness (1938).

Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Jatni
Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Jatni

Xmas celebrations are marked by reunions, parties, midnight masses and get-togethers in Jatni. As a community, the Anglo-Indians are fond of food, dance, singing and merry making. The celebrations start with midnight mass at the Sacred Heart Church during the zero hour on Christmas eve. The prayers are followed by fun games, laughter and food.

Silvia D’Souza, who works for an event management company says Christmas reminds her of childhood days, when she used to look forward to cakes, puddings and other delicacies prepared by her mother. “We would all sit around the dining table and eagerly wait for the dishes to arrive from the kitchen. It was one time of the year that we anxiously waited for,” says Silvia.

Pic Courtesy- Abin Sabu
Pic Courtesy- Abin Sabu

The festivities kickstart on the evening of December 23. Carols are sung to spreads the message of peace and love which Jesus preached. The members of the Anglo-Indian community put up Christmas trees in their houses and decorate it with beautiful lights, carnations, motifs, toys and small gifts. The rooms are decorated with balloons, lights and flowers. They also place a star on top of their houses to mark the arrival of Jesus Christ, the divine saviour. On 24th December, the Anglo-Indians attend midnight mass across the churches in town to celebrate the birth of Christ. The 25th or Christmas day is marked by elaborate parties with trademark puddings, cake, wine and other delicacies.

Pic Courtesy- Abin Sabu

According to Linda Valentine Carrison, Christmas is like an annual grand affair for the Anglo-Indian families. “Christmas for me is a time for reunion. Most of my grandchildren live abroad and Xmas is the only time they come down to meet us. It is a very happy and nostalgic occasion for everyone present,” says Linda.

Pic Credit- Abin Sabu

Jatni has over 140 Anglo-Indian families who live mostly in Railway Colony, Traffic Colony, and Bachchra Patna. Most of these families settled here during the British rule when Jatni or Khurda Road served as an important rail junction on the Calcutta-Madras main line, with diversions to the holy city of Puri and the vast tribal hinterland of Odisha.

The first generation of Anglo Indians in Jatni were mainly the Railway and Telegraph employees. After the country attained independence in 1947, some stayed back in Jatni while others settled in places like the USA, the UK, Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia.

Those who stayed back in Jatni have carved a niche for themselves by adapting to the local lifestyle and culture and picking up the local parlance. Their cuisine is an amalgamation of British and Indian dishes and consists non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian fare.

“Christmas gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us- a time when we can look back at the year that has passed and prepare for the year ahead. Christmas is about rejoicing as well as reflection” says Linda Rose, a teacher by profession.

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