Christmas, known locally as Boro Din among committed adherents and non-Christians alike, is packed with celebrations, performance arts, and much more. The Bangladeshi Christians love to celebrate this occasion with all, since it helps us to be more culturally and religiously inclusive: humanity as a whole. Christmas symbolises solidarity, unison, and tolerance in many countries. It brings people of many faiths together, establishing a more inclusive society where individuals of various cultures coexist peacefully. Economically, the celebrations energise local businesses, stimulating the economy and generating a favourable mood that benefits the entire town.
This celebration also holds educational value, allowing institutions to teach about various traditions and religions that promote understanding. Bangladesh’s Christmas represents a rich tapestry of historical influences and cultural fusion. The event has extended beyond its Christian minority origins and is rooted in the colonial era, when British rule brought Christmas traditions. The small Christian community, which includes both Catholics and Protestants, celebrates Christmas with religious zeal, with services and feasts. Surprisingly, the celebrations transcend religious barriers, exemplifying ecumenical peace. Public places in Dhaka are filled with Christmas decorations, promoting a shared joyful environment. The celebrations are enhanced by social and communal events, along with gift-giving and decorating. All these reflect the country’s commitment to diversity and unification.
ONE OF THE MAJOR CHALLENGES FOR CHRISTIANS IN BANGLADESH DURING THIS SEASON IS THE SCARCITY OF CHURCHES AND PUBLIC SPACES FOR WORSHIP.
With all that being said, when a cherished religious occasion meets the seductive look of Bengali culture, the result is an experience that no one will forget after they’ve seen it with their own eyes. The amalgamation of the components derived from the Bengali culture and the biblical events have been known globally for its ingenuity, and ability to express the true cause of Christmas, the birth of their revered leader, Jesus.
Just a day before Christmas, Christians gather in churches to decorate and re-enact the birthplace of Jesus Christ, depicting a manger where Mother Mary gave birth. Also, they may light a bonfire for imperative causes in remembrance of His birth, symbolising the dawn of a new era to them. As Christmas commences, Christians gather in midnight masses, a unique way of celebrating Christmas in the Gregorian calendar. The choice of midnight symbolically represents the darkness of the world before the arrival of Jesus, who is often referred to as the ‘Light of the World’ in Christian theology. In the later hours, the followers are observed in a mass congregation, chanting hymns in reverence of Jesus, praising him for his valiant sacrifice for His people, and his mother for Her bravery to bring forth a strong leader to them.
THIS CELEBRATION ALSO HOLDS EDUCATIONAL VALUE, ALLOWING INSTITUTIONS TO TEACH ABOUT VARIOUS TRADITIONS AND RELIGIONS THAT PROMOTE UNDERSTANDING.
Observing in the St Mary’s Cathedral, by an anonymous witness, the bishops and sisters offer speeches to the public, most of which targeted the younger communities in order to raise awareness of the importance of Christmas amongst them. In addition, cultural performances can also be seen as kirtan, a rising tempo song that leads to a progression of dance moves by dancers.
At last, after the Church services, there are arrangements for delicacies, where a pitha utshob takes the trophy home, primarily for it being the right season and the universal love of pitha by Bengalis. The church also may prepare a traditional Christmas dinner. Preeri-bhoj, which means ‘love feast’, is the name of the dinner. This is a communal meal that includes chicken and vegetable curries with rice and vegetables, as well as desserts like pitha or payesh. In Bangladesh, the Christmas season is marked by community gatherings, social events, and initiatives to promote harmony among people of different faiths. Carol singing sessions organised by churches, charity events, and Christmas bazaars bring people from all walks of life, fostering a sense of togetherness and belonging. Interfaith carol singing events remind everyone of the universal values that bind us all together.
THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS OFTEN STARTS A MONTH EARLY, STARTING FROM THE HOMES. STORES SELLING FAIRY LIGHTS CAN BE SEEN CRAFTING STARS OF BETHLEHEM, OFTEN MADE AS A RED STAR, WHICH SYMBOLISES THE EXACT LOCATION OF THE BIRTHPLACE OF JESUS, TO BE SEEN BY THE THREE PRIESTS.
One of the major challenges for Christians in Bangladesh during this season is the scarcity of churches and public spaces for worship. Churches are frequently the targets of vandalism and violence, making it difficult for Christians to gather for mass and other religious ceremonies. This has resulted in the creation of alternative worship spaces, such as private homes and community centres. Another issue is the lack of visibility and acknowledgement of Christmas celebrations in the mainstream media and public discourse. Christians are frequently marginalised and excluded from mainstream society, making it difficult to feel a sense of community and belonging. Another example is the practice of holding Christmas bazaars to raise funds for charitable organisations. These bazaars not only provide financial assistance, but also allow Christians to connect with the larger community and promote interfaith dialogue.
Christmas in Bangladesh is a testament to the Christian minority’s resilience and adaptability, as they have found ways to celebrate their traditions despite challenges and marginalisation. The season is distinguished by a distinctive blend of religious and cultural practices, highlighting Bangladesh’s rich tapestry of diversity. Interfaith carol singing events and community gatherings serve as a beacon of tolerance and understanding, encouraging people of all faiths to come together. These celebrations remind us about the true essence of Christmas – the spirit of love, compassion, and giving, which transcends religious boundaries and brings humanity together in a shared embrace of peace and harmony.