Resplendent in tinsel and twinkling fairy lights, Kolkata on Sunday soaked in the Yuletide spirit as people of all ages celebrated Christmas amid the all pervading aroma of freshly baked cakes and wines.
Special prayers, hymns and masses in churches saw large turnouts of the devout, but for the city, the day was much more than a religious occasion and rather a summation of faith, food and fun.
Hundreds of devout Christians took part in the midnight mass held at the age old St. Paul’s Cathedral.
A large number of people from the city and the outskirts gathered at the fashionable Park Street to savour the festive spirit. The mansion-lined street that oozes a British era charm, was lit up and decorated.
Colourful snow streamers, sparkling battery-operated stars, snow bells, dancing Santas, musical Christmas trees, foldable trees, wreaths and foldable decorative items and baubles, decor shops lined up a host of ornaments adding the extra glitz to the festivities.
People started pouring out onto the streets from the Sunday morning to soak in the spirit of Christmas. Most of the tourist spots in the city remained over-crowded from the morning.
If Park Street was the place to be for the party crowd, Alipore zoo became the destination of choice for thousands of others who took their children to the zoo which registered a record footfall on Sunday.
There was a long queue for tickets while many had to wait for over an hour just to enter the complex.
“We have never seen so many people at the zoo on a single day. People in large number started visiting the zoo from the morning. There was not an inch of free space in front of the tiger enclosure with many children thronging there with their parents to have glimpse of the tiger which was roaming outside its den soaking in the bright sunlight,” a senior official of the Alipore Zoological garden said.
Eco Park in Rajarhat also became one of the most visited attractions in the city. A large number of people gathered at the Eco Park to spend the day there with their close ones. It was a great experience for the children as they enjoyed water sports and boat riding. Nicco Park also recorded a huge footfall. Various rides including the roller-coaster cyclone and the boat ride through the river cave were the biggest draws.
Close to 50,000 people visited the riverfront at Princep Ghat and Millennium Park on Christmas. It was a blissful experience for the visitors who enjoyed the strong breeze and a view of the setting sun over river Hooghly.
The Victoria Memorial also saw a huge rush of visitors. “It was great fun in spending some time in front of the Victoria Memorial,” said Antara Hazra, a resident of Behala.
Mamata Banerjee attends midnight prayer at St Paul’s
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attended the midnight prayer on the intervening night of Saturday and Sunday, and sang the Christmas carol at St Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata.
The Chief Minister visited the church at 11.15 pm and stayed there for more than an hour. Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, Director General of Police Surajit Kar Purkayastha and Commissioner of Kolkata Police Rajeev Kumar also accompanied the Chief Minister to the church.
On Christmas Day, Banerjee took to Twitter to greet people. “Attended night church service at St Paul’s Cathedral Kolkata. May the Christmas bring message of joy, peace and love fill our hearts. Happy Christmas,” she tweeted.
Every year, Banerjee visits the Cathedral on the eve of Christmas and attends the midnight prayer. Keeping up with her annual practice, she attended the prayer this year and took blessings.
It may be mentioned that the Chief Minister has often emphasised on spreading messages of peace and harmony. In a recent public meeting in Bankura, she had stated that Bengal is a “land of peace and prosperity.” She further iterated that Bengal is “the soil where people of all religion stay together.”
The Chief Minister also annually visits Puja mandaps during Durga Puja , Kali Puja , Jagadhatri Puja and ghats on river Hooghly during Chhat Puja every year. She also attends the prayer on Id at Red Road every year. On the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti this year, she attended a programme organised at Maidan.
Hundreds of people started gathering at churches across Kolkata since late Saturday night. Scores of people, high on Christmas spirit, had gathered outside the St Paul’s Cathedral Saturday night.
Security was tightened around several churches to avoid any untoward incident on Christmas Eve and Day. A large contingent of police was on duty, led by many senior officers.
Steps were taken to beef up security outside other churches in the state as well. All churches were adorned with lights and decorations. On Sunday morning as well, people attended the prayers in the churches. Many were also seen distributing cakes since afternoon on Christmas Eve.