SANTAS ON RICKSHAWS CHIRSTMAS FOR THE YOUNG AND SPIRITED
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
Courtesy to Hollywood and outrageously Westernised Bollywood, Christmas in the modern world means much more (or less!) than families coming together. Yet, walking down the aisle of Holy Cross Church in Luxmibazar at Old Dhaka revealed the bustling of the young and uncorrupted that resonated a truly inspiring spirit of togetherness. The associated parish, as part of its missionary philosophies, operated two schools- St. Gregory's High School (boys) and St. Xavier's Girls' High School (girls). For years, it has been customary for the students of the school to decorate the church, perform kiirton (traditional religious carols) from door-to-door and bring the love of Christmas to the community.
Peter, a graduate of St. Gregory's High School and later, Notre Dame College explains, “Ever since I was a kid, I have observed how my dadas would spend nights before Christmas Eve decorating the church. Every year, it revealed something different. No two designs from consecutive years looked the same. I am always inspired at how creative these decorations are!”
Young people decorating the Church right before Christmas mass.
Now, a pro “church decorator” himself, Peter and his friends, most of who are students of St. Gregory's High School, admit how planning for Christmas decorations begins several months earlier. “Every year, months before Christmas, our older dadas form a committee and begin planning on the year's theme for Christmas,” explains Pial, ex-Gregorian and recently admitted to Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology. “This year, our theme is family and how Christmas can bring families together. Younger students, mostly 6th grade and above, actively participate in decorating the church and I remember spending many sleepless nights planning and putting up last minute touches.”
“What I find most remarkable is how in spite of graduating many years earlier, the church remains an integral part of everyone's lives. Many of the former students are now jobholders, but every year, they participate as enthusiastically as the younger ones, and work together to make Christmas special for everyone,” says Fr. Edmund Cruze, C.S.C. from Holy Cross Church.
As one enters the bustling bazaars in Mohammadpur and enters Saint Francis Xavier's Green Herald International School, one can see how Christmas is more a matter of togetherness to the students of Green Herald than anything else.
“We never do something too big but we make sure we celebrate Christmas like a family,” says Oishi, a student of Green Herald International School. “We have always been taught to stick together during Christmas. Even though the sisters and teachers used to be in charge of decorating the church and school, they made sure that a lot of us would be helping hands to them so that the Christmas spirit would be alive amongst all of us.”
Green Herald has their own church that they use to celebrate Christmas indoors within the school grounds. “During Christmas we all decorate the front yard of our school and sometimes there are verses from the Bible that are written down decoratively in front of Mother Mary.” says Mondol. “We usually have a feast on Christmas day and sometimes on Christmas Eve even though our school remains closed for the holidays. We also have a lot of small gatherings after the masses. These things, I think, really bring the school together." concludes Mondol
“As a Muslim student, even though we do not celebrate Christmas, we are always in the Christmas spirit. It is inspiring how we can come together in spite of different religions to become part of the Chrismas celebrations with our sisters and teachers.” adds 19-year old Nayena.
For Leonard Michael Gomes, a higher secondary student from St. Joseph College, the most enjoyable part of the Christmas is decorating the church at his village home with all his cousins and friends during the night before Christmas. “Back in the village, I live in a huge extended family, so Christmas becomes as much a family event as a community or religious celebration. Once the church is decorated, friends and cousins travel around the village singing kiirtons in a choir and getting reward money from the elders.”
This year, besides enjoying the special feasts and party, Leonard and his cousins are planning to bring some festive cheer to the children living in the streets by donating warm clothes to them with all the collected reward money during Christmas. The warm clothes will provide the poor children with the much needed comfort during the harsh winter. “The true spirit of Christmas lies in sharing the spirit of togetherness and giving it only multiplies our joy,” adds Leonard.
As most of the educational institutions remain closed during Christmas, some missionary schools organise special pre-Christmas events for all the students before Christmas. “I used to love to participate in pre-Christmas events back in school as it would give me an opportunity to celebrate the Christmas joy with my friends who are from different faiths and also because of the scrumptious dinner served during the ceremony!” shares Oscar, also a student from St. Joseph School. “The West has its snowfall and Santa in a reindeer cart, but in Bangladesh, I love the fact we have pithas and stage shows.”
It all comes down to coming home and being together, and whether our Santa is on a rickshaw or children are dressed in sarees, a Christmas Eve in Bangladesh is full of love, life, friendship and families coming together to share joy.