Illustration: ER Ronny
Winter brings to our minds the warmth of fresh pithas and the veil of fog drawn over the city, obscuring everything. And through the mist, the sound of tolling church bells and Christmas carols. Caught up in a series of Victory Day programs and New Year's plans, Christmas passes by in the city unnoticed by most, with many Christians having immigrated abroad.
Before, Christmas used to be much more diverse. All religions took part in the celebration. On Christmas Eve, the Christians walked around the streets holding candles, singing carols, but now it is mainly confined to the churches, a few houses and five star hotels. Most people prefer to celebrate Christmas at home, as hotels do not have a personal appeal. Christmas is not about formalities, but about being in a cozy environment surrounded by family and friends. In spite of this, Christmas has not lost its charm. For all Christians, it is a season to be merry and to give.
The church hosts mass attended by almost everyone in the community, where people meet at the start of the day, and dressed up Santa Clauses give gifts to children. The houses are decorated in shades of green and red, and gifts are piled up around Christmas trees; the smells of fresh baked cakes come wafting from the kitchens.
Christmas means a new beginning, and a time to rejoice. In the middle of bleak winter, it brings promises of a better year for many. December comes to an end, and sets the mood for the 31st. It is a day to dine with family and look back on the year, and anticipate the start of another one. Without family, Christmas celebrations are not the same. For most, baking cakes and decorating the Christmas tree with cousins are two very important parts of Christmas. Plum, walnut, rum and resin cakes are favourites, and fairy lights with paper chains are draped around the walls. Traditionally, a candle is lit at each window.
But many of these decorations are hard to get, with few shops selling them. The ones available are of inferior quality, and good ones have to be brought from abroad and reused each year. Some Christians complain that most of the shops here don't recognise Christmas, and the city misses the Christmas spirit. Christians here do not get a long enough holiday to celebrate. Almost no Bangla movies about Christmas are aired on TV.
The shows on foreign channels often have little in common with the Christmas celebrated here, and there are few programs outside of church, so the Christians move to their villages to celebrate Christmas with their extended families, where a lot of dancing and singing is sure to ensue. The villages are not bound by the same inhibitions as cities; neighbours have contact with each other, and Christmas is bigger, with every family joining in. The whole community celebrates together, along with the missionaries of the Church - who are practically like family - and food is exchanged between houses.
Others say that as long as there is family, the essence of Christmas cannot be altered. Through the spirit of giving, the presence of Christ in the world is felt, and it does not take snow or shop sales to make Christmas. Even without the large sales or Christmas collections, Christmas shopping goes on. A personal touch is still present as not finding commercial alternatives, people make goodies and cards at home. Kids hang up socks waiting for Santa to pay them a visit all the way from North Pole, and the piano plays a wintry tune. The essence of Christmas lives within people, and as long as there is a Christian community in Bangladesh, Christmas will be celebrated with gusto.