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Christmas bonanza decks streets, storefronts of New Delhi

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Saurabh Das/AP

(Read caption) A laborer pulls a cart load of goods as he passes figures of Santa Claus put up for sale at a market in New Delhi, India, Friday. Christmas Day is observed as a national holiday for all Indians.

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After nearly four years living in India, I’m still amazed at what a huge celebration Christmas has become. From the gigantic reindeer that straddles the newly-constructed megamall near my house and hundreds of kids bargaining off light-up Santa hats on the street, to the roadside shops selling all things Christmas, signs of the holiday are everywhere. Though this ancient country of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, and many other religions has a long history of celebrating each other’s festivals, the blitz of Christmas is still a relatively new phenomenon.

“When I was a kid we used to sell real pine trees from the Himalayas and fruit cakes,” says Shareel Goyal, the third-generation owner of Kriti Creations, a magnificent gift shop that brims with human-sized Santa Claus statues and reindeer neck ties in Khan Market, a bustling shopping area. “But after India opened up to foreign imports in the early 1990s, Christmas started booming. We now have everything from custom Christmas trees and nativity straw to every kind of ornament you can imagine.”

Shopping in Mr. Goyal’s little store feels like WalMart on Black Friday. The Christmas music is merry, but the murmurs from shoppers that the place is a "mad house" are hard to miss. However, what makes the scene so unique is that most of the clients are non-Christian Indians. Fascinated by why so many Indians would be interested in Christmas, I ask a mother and daughter who just bought a wreath and big golden horn why they celebrate the holiday.

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