Kottayam (Kerala), Dec 25 (IANS) Christians in Kerala gathered at churches early Friday to attend Christmas mass and the prayers were followed by a sumptuous breakfast of 'appams', stew, eggs and cake. It was also a day for family and friends to exchange season's greetings over a bottle of liquor.
In a departure from previous years, some churches held their mass at Thursday midnight, while the traditional Orthodox Church reverted to the custom of the mass ending at around 5.30 a.m.
"We were one of the first churches to change the schedule, but since last year we reverted to the old time so the mass ends at the break of dawn. Tradition is that Christmas mass should end early morning and not at midnight," said Alexander Joseph, an Orthodox Church member in Kottayam.
Christians make up 22 percent of Kerala's 32 million population and the festival is celebrated with much fanfare across the state.
Catholics are the dominant group, comprising 50 percent of the Christians in the state, followed by the Orthodox Church with a following of around 2.5 million. Jacobites, the Mar Thoma, the Church of South India and the Pentecostal churches make up the rest.
After the early morning prayers, people headed back to homes to dig into a special breakfast of the traditional 'appam' with stew, baked bananas, egg curry and, of course, cakes.
But 75-year-old Annamma Chandy in Thiruvalla rued not getting fresh toddy...not to drink it but to mix it into the 'appam' batter.
"This time also we didn't get good quality fresh toddy, which is a must to mix in the dough for the appam and we had to opt for yeast," Annamma said.
Another sign of a joyous Christmas were the long queues seen at the retail shops of the state-owned Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC), the lone wholesalers of beer and Indian Made Foreign Liquor.
KSBC expects to close the month of December with record sales in excess of Rs.450 crores.
"We probably are the only community when during Christmas time, irrespective of age, family members sit around a bottle of liquor to celebrate Christmas," said Kurian Thomas.
What added to the Christmas cheer this year was the increase in rubber prices to Rs.138 per kg, up from Rs.65 per kg last year.
"Don't you see the cheer on everyone's face...even though prices of essential commodities have soared like never before, it has not affected Christmas festivities because of the excellent price of rubber this time," said 83-year-old P.P. Mathen, a retired advocate.