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Christmas, Carols And Unique Indian Christianity

New Delhi: Christianity came to India much before it went to the west, perhaps a reason why India's 25 million Christians prefer to be catholic in faith // , oriental in worship and Indian in culture.

It has been a two-way process - a process of osmosis where Christianity has over the centuries become an indelible part of Indian plurality. Not only for the urban middle classes enthusiastically getting ready for Christmas, a festival that long ago surpassed the boundaries of mere religion, but also for the many millions who have studied in missionary schools.

Come December and even the smallest local market begins stocking Christmas tree decorations. And most urban Indians may not go to church for Christmas mass or wake up to a white Christmas, but many certainly make sure they are free on Christmas eve to dance and sing 'Dashing through the snow' or 'Silent Night'.

On the flip side, many customs of the majority Hindu religion have assimilated into Christian traditions, making for a uniquely Indian Christianity in a country where the community forms the second largest minority group after the Muslims and constitutes 2.4 percent of its one billion plus population.

'We have incorporated many Hindu traditions into our customs - for example in Christian weddings we have a mangalsutra or the sacred chain worn by married women like those of the Hindus,' said Father Abraham Kakkanattu, director of the Pushpagiri Medical College in Kerala's Thiruvalla town, giving one example.

The influence is undeniable and goes beyond culture.

The Christian community, with a tradition of two millennia, plays a vital role in two important fields in India, primary education and health services.

According to a 2003 report of Directory of Catholic Health Facilities in India, the Catholic church itself has 764 hospitals, 2,975 dispensaries and health centres and 115 medical training centers throughout the country.

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