Goa is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, famous for its sunny beaches and vibrant nightlife. One of the most magical times to experience Goa is at Christmas. When I heard about the atmosphere of festivity in the air and the delicious food on offer, I couldn’t resist visiting.
However, not being a fan of beaches, I decided to look beyond them and their parties to see what else there is to experience in Goa during Christmas.
What This Article Will Cover
While Goa may not be your typical winter wonderland, and I didn’t expect a “white Christmas,” it is still one of India’s most Christmassy destinations. Here, I had the chance to see festive lights, decorated cribs, try some delicious food, and even attend a midnight mass!
Silent Night, Colourful Night
The entire state of Goa is festively lit up for the holiday season. The very first thing that greeted me as I entered Goa on the night of 22 December, were trees bedecked with baubles and colourful lights, and buildings all done up with tinsel, paper stars, and lanterns—what a welcoming sight it was!
Let’s Go To Church
After settling in at the hotel, I decided to get into the Christmas spirit by setting out to explore Goa, or to be more specific, Old Goa, and see some of its many famous churches, a remnant of the state’s Portuguese colonization. My first stop was the famous Basilica of Bom Jesus which is one of India’s oldest churches, consecrated in 1605. It being the holidays, the church was quite crowded, but I still managed to get a look at the tomb and mortal remains or relics of St Francis Xavier.
Just across the road from this lay the massive 16th-century Sé Cathedral and the ornate Church of St Francis of Assisi, which I also visited, along with the nearby St Cajetan. Here, I finally got the peace and quiet I was looking for, and even felt refreshed enough to go check out the centuries-old Viceroy’s Arch near the Mandovi River.
A few days later, on Christmas Eve I realised that if I really wanted an authentic Goan experience at Christmas, I should attend a Midnight Mass. So, come evening, I headed off to the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Panaji. It was beautifully lit up for the occasion, and chairs were set out outside to accommodate the huge crowds of worshippers who had gathered here.
Midnight Mass is a popular tradition in Goa, as in many other Catholic communities. It started off with the choir singing beautiful hymns, while the mass itself started at 11 pm and went on till after midnight. I chose to stay back for a while after the service, to enjoy the cool night air (a blessing after the hot Goan days!) and was treated to small pieces of rich fruit-cake that were being shared around along with tiny cups of coffee.
It was a wonderful experience to see the usually serene white-washed church absolutely filled with people both young and old, all decked out in their finest. Christmas dances are often held after mass, with live bands and singers, but (unfortunately) I was too tired to attend!
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Of Cakes, Pastries And Other Delicious Things
Another exciting thing to experience in Goa at Christmas is all the delicious food. Goans really love their food – which is a blend of Indian and Portuguese – and the very best of it is made during festivals like Christmas! At my Christmas dinner, I tried seasonal delicacies such as roast turkey, pork sorpotel (a spicy Portuguese dish traditionally made with pork and offal), some rava-fried pomfret, and plum cakes, along with a couple of glasses of coconut feni.
Despite how full I was after this massive meal, I managed to make some space for dessert. A Goan favourite is bebinca, made up of seven layers of coconut-flavoured batter and melted ghee (clarified butter), but I wanted something more unusual. So, I ordered a piece of baath cake (made with coconut and semolina) which was light, fluffy, and delicious.
Other popular Christmas desserts to experience in Goa include toffee-like dodol, the gram and coconut paste doce, jaggery stuffed neureos, and bolina, or coconut cookies.
But What Made The Experience Of Christmas In Goa So Special?
As I was staying in the quieter southern part of the state, a unique experience in Goa I had was the chance to see a crib competition.
While driving around Goa at Christmas, you’re sure to spot lots of stunning Christmas crib displays of nativity scenes that are put up in each village. Many of them are really impressive, put together with great ingenuity and effort.
Goa has its own crib making contest, and by asking the locals (and my hotel) for more details, I took the time out to see what it was all about! Held a few days after Christmas, it has the feeling of a fete, with chief guests, speeches, and (of course) lots of creativity on show. The winning crib featured running water forming streams and life-size figurines of the Nativity scene.
What Did I Actually Gain From This Particular Experience In Goa?
This chance to experience Goa at Christmas was an eye-opening one. I had never really stopped to think of what lay beyond all the beaches and parties that are so well known in Goa. Having done this, I found that there’s a whole other side to Goa, one with the old world charm of Portuguese houses, delicious food, and friendly locals, and I want to see so much more of this Goa.
How Would I Do It Differently Next Time?
One thing I regret was missing the chance to experience Goa’s wonderfully eccentric New Year’s Eve traditions. Towards the end of the year, locals make effigies out of old clothes stuffed with hay which they then burn to bid goodbye to the old year and welcome the new. Having left soon after Christmas, I missed out on this event and it would definitely be something I would plan were I to do the same trip differently.
So, Why Should You Visit Goa At Christmas?
While there’s no going wrong whatever you choose to do in Goa, this deep dive into one specific festival and exploring the destination beyond its touristy avatar is perfect for those looking for a more authentic experience, or for those who want to experience the warmth of Christmas, albeit in a different form.