A mix of tradition and innovation this Christmas
Christmas in Kolkata always means a glorious festive look: red and white Santas, green holly, bells and carols and the rich, raisin–laden fruit cake. And what is Christmas in Kolkata without cakes from the legendary Nahoum’s? This centuries–old Jewish confectionery in the heart of New Market serves the mother of all fruitcakes, especially during Christmas and New Year. The rich fruit cake at Nahoum’s is already flying off the shelves, along with the delicious plum cake, the ever–so–popular brownies, macaroons and fudge.
“These are traditional bestsellers during Christmas. At Rs 300 for a 400–gram fruitcake to Rs 450 for a 500 gram plum cake, these cakes are the most popular items every year. A number of foreign tourists also visit Nahoum’s rooting for our Christmas cakes during this time of the year”, said a spokesperson of the heritage cake shop.
Another famous confectioner, Kookie Kar, is already selling scrumptious chocolate chip cake and fruit cake for Christmas, apart from chocolate boats, macaroon tarts, Belgian chocolate tarts and brownies. Christmas shopping in Kolkata is in full swing. Three years after it opened shop, the vintage bakery at Lalit Great Eastern will be looking at brisk Christmas sale of the fruitcake, plum cake, plum pudding, Dundee cake and stollen bread this year. “The stollen, a traditional Christmas bread, comes for Rs 700 a loaf and is a Christmas specialty”, said a spokesperson of the bakery.
Hop onto the vintage coffee shop Flury’s on Park Street and apart from the regular fruit cake and plum cake, Christmas time will see a deluge of cakes, like the almond iced cake, fig and blackcurrant cake, date and walnut cake, rum and raisin cake, sugar–free cake, Yule log and a clutch of yummy pies. A pound of cake at Flury’s costs between Rs 400 and Rs 650. “Cranberry cake and sugar–free cake are additions this year. There was a huge demand for sugar–free cakes from clients who are diabetic”, said Vikas Kumar, Executive Chef, Flury’s. The huge Christmas tree at Flury’s has gone eco–friendly this year, with jute being used as a tool of decoration. The theme here: a merry red and white.
And what’s Christmas without the beautifully lit up Park Street? Oldtimers say that in the 60s and 70s, people used to flock to Park Street on December 24 and greet each other ‘Merry Christmas’ around midnight. “That happens now on New Year’s eve. The party till dawn concept was there only for New Year’s eve but now people want to spend even Chritsmas eve partying. The distinction has blurred”, filmmaker Anjan Dutt told Millennium Post.
Over the last five years though, the Christmas festival in Park Street has become a big draw for the public, under the leadership of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee. The Department of Tourism, Govt of West Bengal organised the Kolkata Christmas Festival – 2016 in co–ordination with Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Kolkata Police in association with the Apeejay Surendra Group, Kolkata. Mamata Banerjee inaugurated the festival on December 16 at Allen Park, Park Street by lighting the Christmas Tree and triggering the illumination of the historic Park Street in the presence of Goutam Deb, Minister–in–Charge, Indranil Sen, Minister–of–State, Department of Tourism, Reverend Ashoke Biswas, Bishop of Calcutta, Most Reverend Thomas D’Souza, Archbishop of Calcutta, Derek O’Brien, MP and M S Calvert, MLA.
During the festival, cultural programs were held in the evening on and from December 16 at Allen Park. Students from over 25 schools from the city took part in an elaborate and colourful Christmas parade depicting ‘The Symbols of Christmas’ to be inaugurated by Indranil Sen, MOS, Department of Tourism. Every evening, carols are sung by various groups with performances scheduled for popular bands like Hip Pocket, Krosswindz and Shane Hyriapet. About 40 dining outlets set up stalls on Park Street for the public to savour its delicacies.
The Department of Tourism also lit up Allen Park and the entire Park Street area from Jawaharlal Nehru Road from December 16 and will be doing so upto the Bengal Global Summit, 2017 beginning January 21, 2017.
A different Christmas scene? Cut to Bow Barracks in the heart of Hindu–dominated North Kolkata and you get the bonhomie of a small Portuguese town – everybody who walks in during Christmas is offered cake and homemade red wine. The warmth of the inhabitants is perhaps immortalised by Anjan Dutt in his film, Bow Barracks Forever, “There is still a lot of singing and dancing on the streets which happens at Bow Barracks during Christmas. Though there is paucity of funds, it is hardly apparent from the way Christmas is celebrated there”.
Interestingly, almost all private Christmas parties are traditional, with most celebrities offering wine and turkey to friends, colleagues and of course, family. Director and musician Anjan Dutt and his son musician Neel Dutt have been throwing a Christmas party for about 50 guests every year– a tradition that has been a part of the Dutt household for generations. Renowned filmmaker and actress Aparna Sen and actor and Trinamool Congress MP Moon Moon Sen usually drop by.
“Most people carry their own poison (drink). We cook for the guests”, said Dutt. Clubs of the city too, make elaborate arrangements for entertaining members on Christmas eve and Christmas Day. Popular DJs belt out chartbusters through the night(mix of Bollywood and English numbers), as couples take happily to the dance floor.
Many Bengali families also flock to Darjeeling to celebrate Christmas. The quaint holiday destination decks up this time of the year and holidayers celebrate along with the locals, keeping themselves warm with wine, Christmas carols and special turkey dishes. Kolkata too sees an influx of foreign tourists in the season of mists and cool temperatures.