December 2017


Christmas Glitter in Pettah
December 2017




The bells of Christmas herald the coming of Christ the Saviour

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is best experienced amidst the rush, striking colours and noise of Pettah. It is the ‘Bazaar' in the heart of Colombo where people throng to buy ingredients for Christmas cake and decorations for the home.


Words: Jennifer Paldano Goonewardene
Photography: Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham and Geeth Viduranga


It is the season of Christmas and everyone's in Pettah. The streets are bustling with shoppers shoving each other along narrow pavements, drivers ceaselessly hooting their vehicle horns trying to get jaywalkers to move. Men pushing carts laden with goods somehow know the art of manoeuvring through the narrow streets of Pettah. Tuk tuks nearly clog up the streets. Everyone is in Pettah to clinch a good deal.


To feel the haste of seasonal shopping and, of course, secure a bargain or two, the maze of lanes that make up the Pettah Bazaar is the place to visit. Every by-road has something different and thrilling to offer and, during the season, each corner sparkles.

To feel the rush of seasonal shopping and, of course, make a bargain or two, the maze of lanes that make up the Pettah Bazaar is the place to visit.


Pettah has interesting spaces reserved for countless specified goods. St John's Street is another perpetually-crowded marketplace, where street wardens try to direct motorists who are looking for parking in crammed spaces. People were walking in and out of stores. Pettah may be loud, but showy flamboyance is not one of its traits. This was quite obvious as we peered into the shops selling cake ingredients. Modest and almost plain in appearance, they were stuffed from top to bottom with requirements of every kind. In any trade reputation matters as some ‘old' shops were teeming with customers. Traders were busy writing down long lists that were read out by shoppers. It is not unusual for a little bit of jostling among customers as patience runs out in the heat of the day.

Along Bankshall Street was another wonderful experience, where the colours of Christmas broke out in red and green and a multitude of shades. The spirit of the season lingered in the tinselled streamers...


So what's with coming all the way to Pettah to buy ingredients? The simple answer was quality and good price. When business is intense, there's a great deal of noise and everyone's clamouring to get their lists across before others. The good thing about this ‘dedicated' street is that people can purchase even the smallest quantity. Some shops here have a separate section selling tools and ornaments for cake making and to decorate them.


Leaving ‘cake lane' and walking along Bankshall Street was another wonderful experience, where the colours of Christmas broke out in red and green, and a multitude of shades. The spirit of the season lingered in the tinselled streamers, the Christmas trees in various sizes, shapes and colours as the choice of indulging in the favourite pastime of decorating the home was going to be fun with the overflowing collection. From traditional baubles in assorted colours and sizes to unusual shapes that were hung from the ceiling to the captivating colours of poinsettias the décor was magical. Timber and wicker miniature Nativity Scene sets of many sizes and designs are on display, each a creation made with great care. Santa Claus masks and Father Christmas toys excite the children. Beautiful gold angels and tingling bells, eager to suspend from a Christmas tree, call out to the shopper. There are more than 20 stores that sell Christmas decorations along Bankshall Street.

So what’s with coming all the way to Pettah to buy ingredients? The simple answer was quality and good price. When business is intense, there’s a great deal of noise and everyone’s clamouring...


A day spent in Pettah leaves one with much food for thought. What defines Pettah is the normalcy of its chaos, the seeming disarray despite the systematic operation of buying and selling that has gone on for years. From the diversity of shoppers to the multi-ethnic trading community, everyone in Pettah has found common ground.

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    Crowded and busy, everyone's in Pettah for Christmas shopping

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    Pretty decorations to deck your halls

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    Garlands of streamers add to the joyful festive spirit

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    Simple elegance for your Christmas tree

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    Bright holly berries, a symbol of the promise of everlasting life

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    Decorations in a medley of colour along Bankshall Street

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    Food colouring to capture the season's essence

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    Christmas cake ingredients

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    Go 'nuts'

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    Essentials for making festive delights in shops along St John's Street

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