Christmas in Bangladesh falls in the winter season. Of course, Christmas in our country has great spiritual meaning and is not as commercialised as in the developed countries of Europe or Northern America – this is probably a reason why in every country there are so many interesting local traditions and cultural differences.
by Anwar A. Khan
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25, a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night; in some traditions, Christmastide includes an octave. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world’s nations including Bangladesh and it is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season centred around it.
The traditional Christmas narrative, the Nativity of Jesus, delineated in the New Testament says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with messianic prophecies. When Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn had no room and so they were offered a table where the Christ Child was soon born, with angels proclaiming this news to shepherds who then further disseminated the information.
Although the month and date of Jesus’ birth are unknown, the church in the early fourth century fixed the date as December 25. This corresponds to the date of the solstice on the Roman calendar. Most Christians celebrate on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, which has been adopted almost universally in the civil calendars used in countries throughout the world. However, some Eastern Christian Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the older Julian calendar, which currently corresponds to a January date in the Gregorian calendar. For Christians, believing that God came into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity, rather than knowing Jesus’ exact birth date, is considered to be the primary purpose in celebrating Christmas.
The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, lighting a Christingle, viewing a Nativity play, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, pulling Christmas crackers and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly.
In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore. Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.
Christmas in Bangladesh falls in the winter season. Of course, Christmas in our country has great spiritual meaning and is not as commercialised as in the developed countries of Europe or Northern America – this is probably a reason why in every country there are so many interesting local traditions and cultural differences. As in the most Christian cultures in Europe and the Americas, having Christmas dinner with friends and relatives is the most popular activity after attending the church. Christmas is usually an official public holiday in our country, so people use the opportunity to spend time with their friends and family.
After church service, Christian people go home and have a festive meal along with their friends, near and dear ones. Children do usually get Christmas presents. The festivities are accompanied by singing the Christmas Carols. In our country, there is singing and dancing just as in many other countries of the world. One of the most widespread Christmas traditions in Bangladesh is the colourful decorating of premises which symbolize peace. There is Santa Claus in our country. The sunny weather draws many people to the outdoors. Later in the evening a masquerade party is held with lots of food and music for residents to enjoy.
On the day of this occasion, the sun shines and everything seems so alive. All that vitality is brought to life even more by the festivity of Christmas. Just like any other place in the world, the preparations for the celebration of Christmas begin way in advance. Some Christian businesses are closed for the whole month of December. Even though Christmas in our country has many differences from Christmas in the rest of the world, the actual traditions and festive spirit are quite similar. Houses of the Christian community are well decorated. Elaborate Christmas dinner and carolers bring Christmas spirit and festivity in the wind.
Many families set up a decorated Christmas tree in a corner with lights and ornaments, surrounded by gifts for everyone at home. The Christians say the first decorated Christmas trees appeared as far back as the 14th century. Christmas trees are a popular decoration as are tiny sparkling lights in windows and on walls. However, the Christmas tree is usually only put up in the homes only in the morning of the 25 of December. For them, Christmas Day is a day of good eating, exchange of gifts to add up the enjoyment. The women wake up bright an early morning, ready for a busy day full of tasks, making sure everything is neat and set up before visitors appear.
On Christmas Day, children and adults, representing the angels in the fields outside the Churches, go from house to house singing carols. Church services are held on Christmas day where people dress in their native attires or Western costumes. Later on, there is a grand feast in every Christian home. Families eat together with close friends and neighbors, and gifts are exchanged. In the evening, the children and adults do traditional dancing. The teenage kids and adults sing and play the drums. Friends and family members sing the jingle and party till midnight.
Christmas in Bangladesh is celebrated with great enjoyment and fun. It is a festival which is celebrated by all the people of all ages of the Christian community. The people celebrate the birth of Jesus on this day. Though Christmas around the world is celebrated in different ways by different countries. Customs differ around the world for observing Christmas, but they all centre on celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus, all around the world, people have taken the celebration of the birth of Jesus and made a Christmas that fits with the culture of their own country.
Christmas is a happy, festive time filled with great spiritual significance. Caroling, feasting, and gift giving along with the prayers and wishes – the Christmas is celebrated with high spirits all over the world including Bangladesh. Though the mode of celebration, the dates and the traditions vary, the main spirit remains the same everywhere. Although Christians only form a small minority of the population in Bangladesh, her long history as a British colony has seen many traditions remain.
This auspicious occasion is a prime festival of Christian community and hence, is celebrated zestfully around the world including Bangladesh. Christmas conveys his message of love, tolerance and brotherhood. Though, it is a religious festival of Christians, it has a special significance in everyone’s life of the Christian community in Bangladesh.
Like any other religious festival, the celebration of Christmas begins month before the day of festival. During Christmas week, markets and shopping places are embellished with different types of Christmas gifts and Christmas items. People prepare themselves for the festival by decorating their houses. Cakes, Candles, Christmas Carol and most importantly, Christmas tree are the attractions. Churches and other public places are decorated elegantly to celebrate the festival with great zeal. On the day of festival, people perform prayers at the Church and wish everyone with open heart and sacred soul. Also, various cultural programmes are organised across the nation to make this auspicious day memorable for everyone. Santa Claus distributes gifts to the children and listens to their demands with a smile.
The festival of Christmas reflects the cultural unity of Bangladesh as on this auspicious occasion. This cultural unity sets an excellent example of brotherhood and humanism.
Though the country has only small population of Christians, it celebrates the auspicious occasion of Christmas with passion and pomp. The unity in diversity of Bangladesh can be seen during the celebration of Christmas. Bright light, great food and lavish parties are synonymous to Christmas celebration in our country.
Christmas brings love and happiness into the family. This is the occasion, when friends and family members gather at one place and celebrate the bond of togetherness with love. Being the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, this festival has a great significance in Christianity. On the day of Christmas, prayers are offered to the almighty at the Church in a traditional manner. Christmas is the time to be jolly and spread festival cheer among one and all.
Christmas is the celebration to mark the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The customs and traditions associated with a particular festival reflect historical connection and human emotion attached with it. Different countries celebrate this ceremony through different customs. Winston Churchill veritably wrote, “Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.” Love comes down at Christmas; love all lovely, love divine; love is revealed at Christmas; and stars and angels give the sign. We make a polite expression of our desire for welfare of the Christian community in Bangladesh and good luck to them on the auspicious occasion of Christmas.
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The writer is an independent political analyst who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs