It may be December, but outside the weather is warm, and sunny – come afternoon, it can even get hot, humid, sweltering. Hardly what you would associate with a traditional Christmas. That’s not to say, however, that Sri Lanka doesn’t get into the holiday spirit. Quite the contrary, in fact. A leisurely drive through some of Colombo’s more affluent areas this year will show you extravagantly decorated hotels, whole streets dedicated to Christmas fairs, and even a downsized attempt at constructing the world’s tallest artificial Christmas tree.
But there’s a lot more to Christmas in Sri Lanka than these grand displays, and it has been that way since the holiday was introduced to the country by the Portuguese in the 16th century. It is in an attempt to portray this that we reached out to our readers to share with us their Christmas stories through photographs and words, and we weren’t disappointed.
Here are our picks, interspersed with a few shots from our staff photographers and writers.
Pettah is hardly the go-to spot for holiday cheer – come December, the usual hustle and bustle in its many cross streets is multiplied, and it’s enough to leave the best of us shellshocked. But the area is a haven for Christmas decorations, and if you’re willing to brave the sea of people, the variety – and, of course, the prices – will make the whole experience worth your while. Image courtesy: Minaali Haputantri / Roar.lk
What is interesting about Christmas in Pettah is that almost all the decorations are sold in Muslim-owned stores by Muslim traders. Pictured here are artificial Christmas trees in a variety of sizes, for sale at a fraction of what they cost elsewhere. Image courtesy: Minaali Haputantri / Roar.lk
While we’re on the topic of trees, pictured here is the Christmas Tree at Galle Face Green, with curious men for scale. One of the engineers on site was quite bummed that, despite clearing the Guinness record by about 20ft (the tree stands at 260ft), they hadn’t been able to hit their original target of 300+ ft. This was because of the delay (hello, CMR) that set their work schedule a few days back. Had that not happened, they would have been able to present the public with the perfect tree tonight. Factoring in the delay and the deadline, they had to recalculate and alter it to this shape. Work started in August and all the segments had been finished, the ones that would have made up the centre of the tree can be seen lying on the ground, but after the delay they couldn’t hoist and fit them in place. ‘We did what we could as soon as we possibly could – we have to present it for Christmas, no. We’ll somehow have it ready to be lit tonight.’ Image courtesy: Amalini De Sayrah / Instagram
The world’s tallest Christmas tree in all its current glory. Image courtesy: Thiva Arunagirinathan / Roar.lk
For Vanessa De Silva, food is a big part of the lead up to Christmas – as a home baker, a good part of her December is spent in the kitchen. Here, she is pictured preparing Christmas cake batter, as her daughter Aanya looks on. The recipe, which was passed down to Vanessa from her mother, will eventually be passed down to Aanya, who is being given a head start in the kitchen. Minaali Haputantri / Roar.lk
“The Christmas cake at our house”, says Prasanna, “is made according to my grandmother’s original, handwritten recipe. We follow it every year. You could call it a family tradition.” Image courtesy: Prasanna Welangoda / Instagram
The Perera clan, a part of the Nugegoda community for generations, draws on both Western and Sri Lankan traditions at Christmas. While earlier generations would prepare for the season weeks in advance, today the ‘Young Ones’, as they call themselves (some are pushing 70!), are more rushed. The older generations would home-bake the Christmas cake and make Christmas Crackers (Bon-Bons) and decorations, partly for joy and partly to raise extra funds. Now, the Christmas cake and festive meals are from caterers. Family gatherings to sing Christmas Carols have been a long-standing tradition. The singing capabilities of the clan range from outstanding tenors and sopranos to the downright unmelodious. Nevertheless, at Family Carols, it is a free for all with the less gifted often drowning the accomplished singers. Gusto is everything! Image courtesy Mohan Perera / Facebook
With several of the ‘Young Ones’ living abroad, social media helps all to stay involved. Lighting fireworks and Midnight Church Service are a must. Christmas morning is heralded with a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of milk-rice, seeni sambal and accompaniments. Lunch is usually a Western meal of roast turkey, pork, and ham followed by a Christmas pudding flambée. Image courtesy: Mohan Perera / Facebook
“As someone who lives in Australia, this Christmas is special to me because I am home for the first time in three years. I feel truly blessed to share this Christmas with my family and loved ones in Sri Lanka. The Christmases I spent in Australia also showed me different side to how the festival is celebrated – a joyful, fun time of the year where you can let your hair down and have a sunny barbecue surrounded by family and friends. In Sri Lanka, for me, Christmas is a religious occasion that is sacred spent surrounded by family and friends. Both celebrations bring to life the true meaning of Christmas which is why I personally love a combination of both: where people can have fun and enjoy themselves yet still hold some traditional aspects.” Image courtesy: Shenara Perera / Facebook
The residents at St. Mary’s Home for the Elderly run by the Little Sisters of the Poor off Darley Road, Maradana, gather for midnight mass. Image courtesy: Minaali Haputantri / Roar.lk
Priyanthi, a music teacher, and her family – as well as a few of her students – sing for midnight mass at St. Mary’s on a volunteer basis, in an attempt at spreading the Christmas cheer. Image courtesy: Priyanthi Seneviratne Van Dort