A unique Christmas celebration

Churches opt for simpler festivities amid pandemic
On Christmas Eve, devotees were busy decorating their churches with colourful flowers, pictures and banners, ahead of the big day. Due to the pandemic, priests have decided celebrations should not be too flamboyant. This photo was taken from Rani Jopmala church at the capital’s Tejgaon. Photo: Prabir Das

Christmas, the biggest religious festival of the Christian community, is back again after a year-long wait, with the same exuberance among the community. Billions across the globe will observe the day, and Bangladeshi Christians will join in on the celebration as well.

However, as the pandemic persists, and the vaccine is yet to arrive, churches will be celebrating a bit differently.

Church priests are taking safety issues into account such as wearing masks, maintaining distance and using hand sanitiser, and at the same time, trying their best to spread the happiness and colour of the festivities.

Decorated churches are one of the most attractive features of Christmas, but this year, the decorations will be minimal, according to the priests and Archbishop office.

While visiting different churches of Dhaka, it was seen that religious institutions were already decorated, keeping simplicity in mind. Although the inner prayer halls were decorated with lights, balloons and different types of Christmas art, the outer courtyards were not decorated accordingly.

According to Christian leaders, there are around seven lakh Christians of different sects, including Catholics and Baptists, in Bangladesh. Catholics are the majority, with around five lakh followers, and they will be celebrating the day following their own rituals.

St Mary's Cathedral at Archbishop's House area in the capital's Kakrail was founded in 1956. Usually, around 400 people attend the church every Christmas, but this year, about 200 are expected to visit, according to Christian Communication Centre Convener Father Bulbul Augustine Rebeiro of Dhaka Archdiocese.

Christmas prayers at the church were scheduled to be held yesterday at 8:30pm and 10pm, and today at 8:30am.

"This year, we are not celebrating Christmas in a flamboyant manner. Decorations are limited, but we will celebrate to the fullest, maintaining proper safety requirements," he said.

Catholic Christian community's highest religious leader in Bangladesh, Archbishop Bejoy D'Cruze, said, "This year, we are ensuring 'no mask no entry', social distancing and use of hand sanitiser for believers' safety. We are also discouraging unnecessary gatherings and praying that all Christians may celebrate with full joy and blessings of Christ."

At De Mazenod Church, a catholic church founded in 1986 at Baridhara, usually 500 people offer prayers during Christmas, according to its priest Father Sagor Louise Rozario.

"This time, we are expecting 300 visitors due to the pandemic," he said.

Christmas prayers at the church were scheduled at 6pm and 9pm yesterday, and 7:30am and 10am today.

"Inside the prayer room, we will have chairs arranged, maintaining proper distance. Usually, we lay carpets for the crowd to sit on, but since the pandemic started, we are being more cautious," he said.

"Although we decorated our church, we kept it simple. Because, we need to decorate our hearts more than decorating the buildings," he added.

In terms of attendees, Holy Rosary Church in Farmgate, founded in 1677, is the biggest church in Dhaka. According to the priests, it can accommodate 1800 individuals, and this year, 1100 are expected to visit.

One of the priests of the church, Father Ripon D'Rozario said, "We are decorating the church with the usual materials, such as balloons and coloured papers. Only one-third of the lights have been installed this year."

"We are going through challenging times. Many Christians went back to their villages due to financial crisis. Therefore, we cannot show too much flamboyancy now. But, with blessings of Christ, it will not be a lacklustre celebration; it will be from the heart," he added.

Christmas prayers at the church were scheduled to take place at 7pm and 10pm yesterday, and at 7am and 9am today.

Senoi Baptist Mondoli of Garo Baptist Convention at Dhaka's Kalachandpur, which was founded in 1993, is currently run by 101 devotees of the area. The church's pastor, Ponuel Ritchil Marak, said, "As all of us devotees, including me, are going to our villages, we will be celebrating in our own way back home."


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