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India Embraces Christmas Consumerism

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's turn now to another country where you might be surprised to find a decorated Christmas tree. India is a predominantly Hindu country with a large Muslim minority and a relatively small Christian population.

NPR's Philip Reeves has more.

PHILIP REEVES: Winter has come and so has the fog. It's as if this part of India switched from Technicolor into black and white. But there is one splash of color here. It's rush hour. The traffic's jammed again. Amid the exhaust fumes, two skinny, young Indian men flit from car to car. They're wearing bright red Santa hats. They've got more hats in their hands, which they're trying to sell.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking in Hindu)

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking in Hindu)

REEVES: They work all day, they say. It's not easy playing Santa in India even in a country where the rich are in a party mood. Western-consumer Christmas is creeping into India.

(Soundbite of music)

REEVES: It's crept in here into the shop of Primat Grova(ph). You can tell he's a Hindu from the ash and colored paste daubed on his forehead. That doesn't deter him from wearing his Santa hat or from piling his shelves high with cheap Chinese-made Christmas trinkets.

(Soundbite of Singing Santa Claus Dolls)

SANTA CLAUS DOLL: (Singing) Hey, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.

REEVES: Grova is as happy as the plastic singing Santa in his hand.

Mr. PRIMAT GORVA (Shop Owner): This year, very nice business. Very nice.

(Soundbite of music)

REEVES: Pay no attention to the singers from Rajasthan laid on for the tourists. Christmas has crept in here, too. This is Delhi art craft market, a favorite among people seeking seasonal presents with an Eastern flavor.

Unidentified Man #3: The sound, this oh(ph).

(Soundbite of bell)

Unidentified Man #4: I've got to have one of these.

REEVES: Just over 2 percent of India's population are Christians. Musician Shamila Livingstone(ph) is one of them. She has lived in New Delhi for much of her life. She says Christmas used to pass by unnoticed by most people. But not anymore.

Ms. SHAMILA LIVINGSTONE (Musician): There's a lot of floating extra cash in the economy right now. And there's - it's a great opportunity again to party. So I think, yeah, I think people, whether they are Christian or not, are probably just lavishly spending and enjoying.

REEVES: Shamila is a devout Christian. Her own approach to Christmas is more modest than most, certainly in the West. Her family Christmas meal will have a local flavor.

Ms. LIVINGSTONE: A biryani - a simple biryani means there are probably be just be a chicken biryani or a chicken felal and a tomato chutney and a yogurt chutney and dahi (unintelligible) and a salad. And that's pretty much it.

REEVES: Not everyone's so frugal.

(Soundbite of animal noises)

REEVES: Consumer Christmas has crept in here, too, in a nearby meat market. Time was it was almost impossible at New Delhi to find a turkey for Christmas dinner. But here, amid the thump and chop of the butchers' knives, live turkeys and geese miserably await their doom.

(Soundbite of animal noises)

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.