Christmas Tradition in Bangladesh
Edward Apurba Singha
EACH year on December 25 Christians around the globe celebrate Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago and he came to this world to rescue mankind from sin and spread the message of eternal life.
According to the Holy Bible, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, eternal father, prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
So, the birthday of Jesus has a great significance among the Christ followers, which in practice turns this event into a magnificent religious festival. Apart from religious customs, Christmas has a different festive mode from the cultural viewpoint.
Despite cultural divergence Christians around the world on this day offer prayers for the welfare of the entire human race, share feelings with loved ones, donate essentials to poor, decorate houses, prepare festive foods and exchange marvelous gifts to mark this occasion.
In this story Christmas celebrations in Bangladesh was stressed on and we visited two different destinations, Chittagong and Netrokona. We visited local churches and Christian populated areas to discover native tradition of Christmas celebration.
In the port city Chittagong we visited Cathedral Parish located in Pathorghata. It should be mentioned that Chittagong has a glorious history of Christian missionaries. It was in 1598 when Rev. Fr. Nicolau de Pimenta, the metropolitan of the Portuguese India sent two Jesuit Priests, Fr. Francesco Fernandez, S.J. and Fr. Domingo de Sousa, S.J from Cochin to Chittagong. The Diocese of Cochin (est. 1557) was the head of missions in Bengal.
Rev. Fr. Pierre Benoit, CSC, Cathedral Parish said, “Fr. Francesco Fernandez along with his companion arrived in Chittagong to administrate the activities of Portuguese Christians who were already in Diang and Chittagong to deliver the message of Gospel to the local people. He then built the first church at Bandel, Chittagong and dedicated it to 'St. John the Baptist' on June 24, 1600. But it was attacked and destroyed within two years.
"Fr. Fernandez who was the first Christian missionary in Bengal was also captured, tortured and put into prison. This incident happened because of the Arakanese who drove out the Portuguese from Diang and ransacked the place on November 8, 1602. Due to unbearable pain and anguish Fr. Fernandez died within a week on November 14, 1602. A wonderful monument on the church compound was established to recall the memory of Fr. Fernandez", he added.
Christmas celebrations in Chittagong gained momentum from the second week of December. During this time youths from both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches formed groups to perform Christmas carols in different locations of the town.
Nicolas working at a private bank said, “I am waiting with great interest from the beginning of the year to join the carol group. It's really thrilling when I accompany my friends, walk in the chilly winter night and reach different parts of the city to herald Christmas by performing our music. People reward us by donating money and we deposit it to church. At the end of our week-long musical programme we arrange a feast for our team members”.
The Garo tribes celebrate their Wangala on December 16 at Cathedral Parish. It is like Thanksgiving Day and during this occasion tribal people stage different programs on the church premises. The most remarkable thing is that they create a huge jar where they put the cross of Jesus Christ. After that they move around this jar and perform special dance.
Unlike Dhaka there is no rush of the homebound people. Most of the Christians reside in their own villages to celebrate the occasion. All churches arrange special prayer sessions during Christmas Eve and on the Christmas Day.
We also visited 'St. Joseph's Church' at Ranikhong, Durgapur, Netrokona. It is mainly a tribal populated area. Before establishing this mission all local people were the followers of Hinduism. The church is located over a small hill and this place is adjacent to the Indian border. A river originated from the mountain pass through this area forming a scenic beauty.
Hundred years ago people of the tribal community worshiped imaginary gods. During that time five enthusiastic people had decided to discover the light of truth or the real God. Then they started their journey and ultimately reached Laxmi Bazaar, Dhaka. There they shared their desire with the bishop and urged him to nominate someone to spread the message of salvation. Realizing their eagerness bishop in 1910 sent three missionaries to Thausalpara village where they started their activities to enlighten people.
Fr. Joseph said, “Christmas celebration of the tribal community is slightly different from the Bangla tradition. On the Christmas Day young boys and girls from different places became united to perform special Christmas carols. The last house they went to, that family would take the responsibility to organize the Christmas feast next year. The carol continues up to midnight”.
“Special prayer session was also organized four weeks before Christmas to mark the advent of Jesus Christ. Each week we burn a candle as symbol of our remembrance. Special food was cooked and the Christmas frenzy continues up to December 31”, he added.
During our visit we also observed that the entire mission is powered by solar panels. This could be a remarkable instance for people who have no regular power supply in the remote places. In other words, it also inspires us to adopt green technology.