Borrowed from Times of India
Christmas across the seven northeastern states of about 40 million has always been different from the rest of the country. People from all faiths join the celebrations, strengthening bonds of mutual respect. Manoosh Das reports from Shillong
The one symbol of hope, love and divinity that invariably glows throughout the North Eastern region of the country in this time of the year is the Christmas star. A paper star with an electric bulb adorns almost every house, shops, banks and offices.
The entire northeast is in a celebration mode, with people preparing for Christmas and welcoming the New Year as shops bank on the Santa Claus to boost their sales.
In fact, Christmas is a month long affair here. It is said that Christianity, the commonly practiced religion here, united the region that was separated due to linguistic, ethnic and geographical factors in the past. Christmas celebration is imbibed with family traditions, greetings and gifts here.
Real and artificial Christmas trees are decorated with cotton snow flakes, bells, colored balls, candy canes and other colored decorative in varying shapes. A mid night mass is held in all the churches.
Attired in new dresses, the faithful flock in churches singing carols. This service is not only a sacred prayer but also a social gathering. After the prayers the community feasting and games are held.
In the urban areas family and friends gather in restaurants and dance clubs that are open round the clock.
In the villages rice and pork is cooked for the feast in big wooden pots. The food is served in large banana leaves and shared among the people.
Young girls and boys entertain the crowd with songs and dances while the elders enjoy the rice beer.
The North East is also known for versatile choir groups. They perform in national channels in television during Christmas spreading the message of peace and love.
Conflict-ridden Nagaland is totally Christian-dominated. The Nagas are a fierce mountainous warrior tribe who were formerly head-hunters. Christianity was spread in Nagaland by British colonial rulers and missionaries in the 19th century.
In the picturesque hill station of Shillong, capital of the predominantly Christian Meghalaya, choir groups belt out carols in churches and public places. The sound of the church bells fill the air.
“This is the season of happiness and rejoicing,” says a Baptist church pastor and leader of a choir group.
As the choir group belts out the popular carol, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go”, people break into a jig.
“Everybody here is drowned in this yuletide passion and enjoys it till the core,” says Avner, a college student.
Shillong apart, the other Christian dominated states like Mizoram and Nagaland are equally ready for the festivities, the main cities decked up with a wall of sparkling lights, candles in the windows or a lit-up pine tree in the yards.
“The flow of shoppers has increased and we are open till very late. People buy gifts for friends and families as well as fashionable clothes,” says the owner of a leading shopping mall in Shillong, the fashion capital of the North East.
With many shopping arcades coming up in the northeast, shopkeepers also resort to extraordinary marketing tricks to woo customers.
“You buy goods worth Rs.1,000 and Santa Claus is going to give you a gift amounting to about Rs.500. This new offer has become an instant hit and we are unable to cope with the rush,” the manager of a garment outlet says.
The celebration apart, the catchword in the entire region is peace.
This is natural for an area where thousands have died in insurgencies.
“Everybody is impatiently waiting for Christmas day. Let us all join together in praying for a new dawn of peace and hope in the region,” says Rev. Dominic Jala, Archbishop of Shillong.
Spurred by the improvement in the law and order front, enterprising business people in Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram are holding special Christmas dinners and parties by planning to rope in Indian and foreign DJs and music bands.
Special prayers would also be held on Christmas night at camps of militant groups in Nagaland. In Christian households, preparations for Christmas begin at least a month in advance. People get their homes whitewashed and indulge in spring cleaning of the house to give it a fresh new look. Ladies start preparations for the traditional Christmas cake, which is anxiously awaited not just by the entire family but also by the neighbors.
After all, the festival of Christmas is all about sharing, caring, hope and love.