Srinagar: The birth anniversary of Jesus Christ was celebrated with the festive cheer of Christmas in all churches and missionary schools in the Valley on Monday. A large number of people, mostly non-locals, reached churches early in the morning to participate in the prayers. A small number of Muslims and Sikhs were also seen at churches, having come there to greet their friends from the Christian community.
Churches and school buildings were decorated with multi-colour buntings, balloons and lights. In the Holy Family Catholic Church on MA Road Srinagar, the day began with carol singing in the prayer hall, followed by a message of peace and love by Father Roy who addressed the gathering. After the prayers were over, sweets and gifts were distributed, particularly to children.
Father Roy told Kashmir Reader that this year’s Christmas celebration was more cheerful than the previous year’s. “Due to last year’s unrest, celebrations were restricted only to prayers,” he said, adding, “This year, too, there were no special functions as our focus mostly remained on the message of peace and love, and spirituality.”
Sunny Singh, a Kashmiri Sikh, claimed that he has been celebrating the festival for the last five years. “I believe that there is only one God but the modes of worshiping the God are different. I came here to listen to the message of peace and love, and seek blessings just like on Eid,” he said.
Hirra Bashir, a teenage Muslim girl who was accompanied by a couple of Muslim girls, said that they were invited by their foreigner friends who are on a visit to Kashmir valley from South Korea. “It is for the first time we visited a church. It was an amazing experience. We got to know how Christmas is celebrated,” Hirra said. “We played different games that we had never even seen or heard of. Christmas celebrations are completely different those that of Eid.”
Christmas prayers were held in several other churches of the Valley including in Baramulla and Gulmarg. According to several media reports, mostly tourists, including foreigners, prayed inside the church in Gulmarg, gathering there despite the harsh cold and several feet of snow.
Michel, a Kashmiri Christian, said that celebrations began with midnight mass prayers in churches. He said that Christians go door to door visiting their community and sing songs praising Jesus Christ prior to the grand day’s celebrations. “The preparations actually begin around a month ago. We organise small functions on three Sundays of December,” Michel said.
Michel said that he has celebrated most of his Christmases in Kashmir valley but on a few occasions he has celebrated the festival in other Indian states. “I could only see a couple of differences in the Christmas celebration: one, a large number of people throng churches and people decorate outside their homes X-Mas trees, which we generally do not do here. We celebrate the festival in our own way here but our priority remains to propagate the message of love and peace,” he said.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti greeted people on Christmas and said in her message that she hoped the festival would be an omen of communal harmony, love for humanity, and compassion. “Such occasions remind us to rekindle the spirit of harmony, brotherhood and lead a virtuous life,” an official statement said.
Governor NN Vohra also extended Christmas greetings and said that “over the past centuries, the teachings of Jesus Christ, the apostle of peace, compassion and brotherhood, have guided human beings on the path of righteousness.”
Vohra expressed hope that the celebration would strengthen the bonds of communal harmony, brotherhood, amity, and re-invigorate the secular and pluralistic traditions for which Jammu and Kashmir is known for, a Raj Bhavan spokesman said.
Director General of Police SP Vaid expressed hope that the festival will bring joy and happiness among the people of the state, including to the police personnel.