Christmas contributes to painting the city anew.
The Month of Pine Green,
Snow White and Heart Red
Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra
Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
The month of December, particularly in a city like Dhaka, is probably the best time of the year. As friends and family from distant lands fly in to attend weddings, Dhaka acquires a new face, as the city gets crowded with new faces and colours. National holidays like Victory Day and Christmas are both occasions, which are held during this time that contributes significantly to painting the city anew. Although, majority of the population in Bangladesh comprises of Muslims, there is a significant number of people who are Christians. Popular consensus state that Christmas is not celebrated at a large scale in our country compared to the Muslim festivals. Therefore, we often get a rather narrowed insight to the lives of ordinary Christians dwelling in the heart of the city.
The elaborate Christmas preparations where young muslims also take part.
For starters, one should really know how we ended up with such a vibrant and culturally rich society. History of our land tells us that in the sixteenth century, Christianity was spread by the Portuguese traders and missionaries to this area which was previously known as the region of Bengal (now divided between Bangladesh and India). The country served as a melting pot for people of many races and religions. Therefore, Christianity is very similar to Islam in several of it concepts. Just as we exchange cards and gifts on our Muslim festivals, Christians also exchange items as token of love, hope and appreciation. Prior to the day of Christmas, on Christmas Eve, Christians go to the church to offer a special prayer session also known as the Christmas mass. A second prayer is held on the following day, which is on the day of the great occasion.
The Star of Bethelhem is often seen in the decorated front of a Christian household.
Commonly referred to as, 'Boro Din', most Christians celebrate it with great festivity as they decorate their homes with candles and coloured papers. Most families use local handmade decorations and hang artificial stars on their rooftops to signify the stars of Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus Christ. On this note, Michael Gomes, an ex-student of Eastern University elaborately explains, “I don't know the exact history behind the pine tree but I do know why the star is hung in front of every Christian family's house. In the bible it states that once upon a time there was a king who sent his three wise men to kill the 'the king of all kings' who was to replace him and his throne. The information was divulged by the soothsayers. These three wise men were guided by a sparkling, bright star and taken to the birth spot of Jesus Christ. And from there, we understand that the star is a symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ.”
In addition to the tree and the star, there are Christmas decorations. These are mostly available in shops like Aarong and The Source (in Mohammadpur). In most countries abroad, decorations and accessories are available at huge discounts during this peak season, however, in our country, there is barely any sale around this time of the year. Most families begin their shopping around November and start piling gifts to distribute to friends and family.
Michael Gomes states, “The distribution of gifts is very similar to the way it is done in Islam. We also receive money as gifts. Some of our family members are close to us and we meet them on a daily basis, therefore, we buy gifts and give it to them immediately, but then there are those who live far away and we meet them only on Christmas. So, we greet them with gifts on that day.”
This ornamentation is made more elaborate with the pine-tree which is often seen sitting in all its colours in a quiet corner of a Christian household during Christmas. This pine tree or the Christmas tree is often noted as the Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the winter solstice. Further on, it is often speculated that during Jesus Christ's crucifixion, he wore a crown of thorn, which are derived from the thorn of the pine tree.
Harmony spreads when young people from different communities engage in activities.
However, to most of our Bangladeshi youth, the concept behind this tree is yet another myth. As Clyde Brenton Quiah, a student of North South University explains, “Well, I do not really know what the pine-tree signifies. But I can surely share what I have been taught which is mostly from fairy tales and has little to do with religion. In most stories it states that the pine tree was the only surviving plant found in the foreign land during this season and it was used as a piece of decoration to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.” He adds, “We got our pine-tree from Chittagong about 15 years ago and we still have the tree and have been using it every Christmas.”
Bangladeshi's are a nation who needs to involve food in every single aspect of their life. So, Christmas is no exception either. In the ordinary lives of a Christian family, a Christmas cake is must. This usually involves an elaborate preparation scheme. Special sweet like deshi pitha, and assorted chocolates often accompany the huge galore of food items displayed in a typical Christmas lunch. In addition, different vegetables, mutton, chicken, duck, or beef roasts are prepared for lunch and dinner with appetising fruits, soft drinks, and ice creams. Maryline Brishty Dessa, a student of City College states, “My mother always makes me cook the chicken roast while she busies herself with other dishes. Christmas cake is mandatory and we usually bake a fruit cake. My father usually helps us mixing the cake and then takes it to the pastry shop for final topping.”
Bangladesh has lots of unique traditions and food, but also follow suite in the worldwide traditions such as consistently going to church and exchanging gifts and food. There is a diverse range of celebrations in Bangladesh as the traditions change throughout the tribal towns to the urban locations.
Christmas is a celebration for all in Bangladesh. Muslims help out their Christian friends setting up the pine tree and in making other arrangements. Yet, the celebration of Christmas is often done at a small scale. As stated by majority of the young Christians, it is more of a community and divisional celebration than a nation wide one.
Preparations go on for days until the look of festivity is complete.