Christmas in Goa

Nowhere in Asia is Christmas celebrated in such a unique way as in Goa


1/16/2019 3:39:44 AM
written By : Wendell Rodricks Print

For Catholics in Goa, Christmas is a fine balance of spiritual and festive celebration. To set the spiritual tone, the novenas of St Francis Xavier that start nine days before December 3 begin the holy month leading to Christmas. In Old Goa, thousands congregate daily to attend the novenas. The Church of Bom Jesus, where the mortal relic of the saint is kept and venerated, is packed with devotees. The large church, however, is insufficient to accommodate the crowds. So a special outdoor area is set up to address the thousands of devotees. It is at this time that Goan Catholics begin to prepare not just for the feast of Goa’s patron saint but also for Christmas.

In homes with a tradition of baking Christmas cakes, fruits are soaked in liquor for a month before Christmas. This is also when people begin planning what clothes to wear for Mass and the dances that follow. The bazars of Goa are filled with excited shoppers poring over reams of fabric to choose their Christmas sartorial best. They also shop for Christmas greeting cards to send to loved ones across the world. The house decorations , lights and stars are planned.

In the week leading to Christmas, kitchens are busy with the preparation of traditional sweets. Neurios, pastry puffs filled with coconut or gram flour, are deep-fried and stored in jars. Much sweat and effort goes into making traditional cakes such as bolo, coconut cookies called bolinhas, molasses rice dodol and sweets such as milk fudge, coconut doce, walnut drops and other sweet delights. One can buy these delicious sweets at local bakeries. An excellent place to source the local delicacies is the bakery section of the famed bazars in Panjim, Mapuca and Margao. On Christmas Day, platters of sweet confections are sent to neighbours and relatives. One must always remember those families who have lost a loved one as they do not make sweets at home because they are in mourning.

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Christmas is a time for prayer. The devout attend midnight Mass in the over 200 churches of Goa. At the Mass, the baby Jesus is placed on the altar and prayed to. At the end of the Mass, in my mother’s village, we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and the priest then takes the statuette to place in the Nativity crib that has been prepared many weeks before. The Nativity cribs can be elaborate designs in creativity. In both churches and homes, Catholics do their creative best and some villages also arrange competitions to choose the best crib. After midnight Mass, there is carol singing, a game of Bingo, and cake and wine are served at home later. At this time, everyone puts on the Christmas lights and lights the Christmas star that hangs in every home.  Gifts are exchanged. However, this is more for the children; gift-giving is not such an elaborate ritual as in the West. In fact, there is not much emphasis on gifts. It is done for the children to believe in Santa Claus. On Christmas Day, villagers may arrange a fair with sweet stalls and games. They visit neighbours to wish them a Merry Christmas and then settle down to a huge feast for lunch. This will include delicious dishes such as sorpotel, vindaloo, chicken pulao, croquettes, fish mayonnaise and other culinary dishes.

After a well deserved siesta, Catholics go to a dance decked out in their finery. Some dances can include as many as 3,000 people. There is much merry-making, feasting, dancing and drinking. It is amazing to see everyone on the dance floor from grandmothers to tiny tots. The dances go on till the early hours of the morning with as many as three to four bands playing music in rotation. 

Christmas in Goa is truly a time to celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus and to enjoy the festivities in a most celebratory way. Nowhere in India is Christmas celebrated in such a unique way as in Goa. A Merry Christmas to one and all.



These cardamom- and coconut-flavoured cookies have a delicate, melt-in-your mouth texture from the semolina flour.

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  • 2 cups fresh grated coconut, packed
  • 1-1/2 cups semolina
  • 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup water 
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp ghee 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 11/2 tsp cardamom pdr 


1.  Place the coconut in your blender and blend to get a uniform texture. Do not make it a paste. Keep aside.

2.  Put the semolina in a pan and toast/roast it, over low to medium heat, until it starts giving off an aroma. Do not brown. Transfer the semolina into a bowl and keep aside.

3.  In the same pan, pour the water and add the sugar to it. Place it on medium heat and keep stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Let it cook for another two minutes. Do not cook until it forms a thick syrup.

4.  Add the roasted semolina and mix well. Then add the coconut, salt and ghee and mix well. Put the pan back on the stove, and over medium heat stir the coconut mixture until it is really hot and easily forms a thick clump.

5.  Take the pan off the heat and let the semolina coconut mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer this into a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate for at least overnight.

6.  The next day, take the dough from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Lightly beat the yolks with a fork to break them and add to the dough. Also add the powdered cardamom and mix well with a wooden spoon or fork.

7.  Whisk the egg whites by hand until frothy and add to the dough. Mix well till incorporated.

8.  You will now have a slightly moist and sticky dough. Refrigerate this dough for about half an hour so it firms up a bit.

9.  Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line your baking trays with parchment or grease them well with some ghee or melted butter.

10.  Take the dough out and pinch off walnut sized bits of dough. The dough should be firm enough to handle without difficulty. Roll the bits of dough into balls and then flatten them very slightly.

11.  Decorate the top by marking criss-cross with a table knife. 

12.  Place the shaped dough on the baking trays leaving a little space between them. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until they’re a golden brown and done. Let them cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in air tight containers.


Bolo de Rulao

Bolo de Rulao is a coconut and semolina cake which is also called Bolo de Batica. This is a Goan cake recipe. In Portuguese language 'bolo' means cake.

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  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar, powdered
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups coconut, grated
  • 2 cups semolina (soojee)
  • 1 tsp baking pdr
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rose/almond essence


1.  Mix the coconut, semolina, baking powder and salt and keep aside. Mix butter and sugar till fluffy.

2.  Add the egg yolks to the mixture and beat again. Fold in the semolina mixture (add a little milk in case too stiff). It should be like a thick batter.

3.  Add the essence. Beat egg whites stiff and fold into the mixture.

4.  Transfer the mixture into a 9-inch prepared tin. Leave refrigerated, overnight.

5.  Bake in a pre-heated oven (180 C-375 F) for about 35 minutes or tilll brown and cooked through.


Chicken Vindaloo

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For Vindaloo Paste

  • 10-12 Dry Kashmiri Red Chillies
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 1-inch cinnamon
  • 2-3 cardamoms
  • 8-10 black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 8-10 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch ginger; chopped
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste

 For The Curry

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cups onion; chopped
  • 1 kg chicken; cut
  • 1 cup fresh tomatopuree
  • 1 tsp turmeric pdr
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp Sugar


1.  Dry roast red chillies, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, cumin and mustard seeds till fragrant and slightly browned.

2.  Blend in a blender along with ginger, garlic, vinegar and tamarind paste to make a smooth paste. Add little water if necessary.

3.  Heat oil in pan. When the oil is hot, add chopped onion and fry till golden brown. Add chicken and fry on high heat for 3- 4 minutes.

3, Add tomato puree and the spice paste.

4.  Now add salt, turmeric powder and 1 cup of water and cover and cook for 45-50 minutes. Add sugar and cook for another minute. Serve hot with steamed rice or Chapati.


Traditional Christmas Cake

Preparations for this decadent cake begin a month in advance with the soaking of fruits and nuts in liquor


  • 1 kg of mixed fruit
  • 1 cup of blanched almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup of sherry/brandy or orange juice
  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 1/2 cup of self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 250 gm butter; softened
  • 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs


1.  Place the mixed fruit, chopped almonds and sherry into a container and give it a good stir to ensure all the fruit and almonds are coated with sherry. Place a lid on the container and leave for at least 24 hours.

2.  Line the base and sides of 2 x 15cm cake tins with baking paper and preheat your oven to 160 degrees.

3.  Sift the flours and spices together into a bowl and set aside until needed.

4.  Place the softened butter and brown sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

5.  Add the strawberry jam and vanilla extract and mix for a minute to combine.

6.  Add the eggs one at a time making sure you mix each egg in well before adding the next. If your mixture starts to split, add a spoonful of your sifted flours to it.

7.  With your mixer on a very low speed add the fruit and flour mixture alternatively and mix until combined.

8.  Pour the mixture into your prepared tins and lightly smooth the surface.

9.  Place your cakes in the oven and set the time for 1 1/4 hours. When the timer goes off, place a piece of foil over the tops of your cakes to prevent them from over browning. Test your cakes and cook for a further 20 minutes or until soft crumbs appear.

10.  Remove your Christmas cakes from the oven and make a few holes. Pour a few tablespoons of rum or whiskey. Allow it to cool. Wrap in a foil and continue to feed the cake with alcohol every few days until it is time to cut.

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