The Christian community in Bangladesh may be a minority when compared to the number of people following other religious pathways in the country, nevertheless Christmas in Bangladesh, which is a public holiday, is celebrated with great vigour. Christmas in Bangladesh is called ‘Bara Din (Big Day)’ and is celebrated in various ways in various regions of the country.
The day starts off on a note similar to the other festivals of the country which witnesses Christian friends and family greeting each other by saying ‘ Shubho Boro Din’ and offer traditional sweets and pithas. They decorate their homes with local handmade decorations and hang artificial stars on their rooftops to signify the stars of Bethlehem. Christmas in villages have an altogether different feel to it. Many Christian villagers cut banana trees and replant them in pairs along the paths that lead from their homes to the Church. The leaves of the trees are bent to form an arch. These bamboos burn to illuminate their way to the Church for the unique service. Several day-long large gatherings are held at the churches, functions include illumination of churches, decorating Christmas trees and other Christian festivities. It’s a sight to witness if you have never seen it before. Celebrating Christmas outside the city gives you an opportunity to witness this rather unique culture. Tribal communities follow their own tradition slightly different from the Bengali tradition.
In the metro, Christian communities celebrate Christmas in a more general manner. They meet each other at their homes, decorate churches or gather at hotels or cafes to celebrate the special day. Hotels like The Westin or Sonargaon, have special parties during Christmas, many of which are very highly rated. The festival is abuzz in the media as well with TV channels hosting special programs and newspapers publishing special supplements to mark this occasion. Perhaps the most sought after aspect during Christmas is the food during the festival. Since it takes place in winter every year, the country’s special winter foods are commonly seen being eaten during this festival.
For instance, Breakfast at Christmas consist of food like cakes, pitha, paesh, semai, and sandwiches. Different vegetables, mutton, chicken, pork, or beef are selected for lunch and dinner with delicious fruits, soft drinks, and ice creams.Each city and town in Bangladesh celebrates Bara Din in their own unique way. The St. Mary’s Church in Dhaka hosts gatherings that last for days, whilst other churches invite the community to join them in decorating the Christmas tree and singing carols. In Dhaka Christmas services and carols are held in different churches including
Mary’s Cathedral at Kaktail , Holy cross Church at Laxmi Bazar and Holy Rosary Churse at Tejgaon. Several day-long large gatherings are held at St. Mary’s Cathedral at Ramna, Portuguese Church at Tejgaon, Church of Bangladesh (Protestant) on Johnson Road and Bangladesh Baptist Sangha at Sadarghat Dhaka. Functions include illumination of churches, decorating Christmas tree and other Christian festivities. But no matter how this festival of love and remembrance is celebrated, it remains a time of giving, forgiving and receiving the love that is shed by community members and the love of God.
Most families will spend Christmas Eve together, opening their gifts, talking and laughing, while Christmas songs linger in the background. Everyone heads off to bed quite early, as Bara Din is usually a busy day for all. On the morning of Bara Din, children get the opportunity to peak into their Christmas stocking before heading for the Christmas church service. Churches also organize a feast to be laid out after the service, allowing congregation members to mingle and eat together. Then, for the rest of the day, families and friends visit each other, going back and forth from home to home. By the end of Bara Din, everyone in Bangladesh has a full stomach and a full spirit, after spending the day with loved ones.
Bara Din is also a day where people get to meet each other and spend time. People gather, taking time to talk and to get to know each other again, in the fast paced world we live in people seldom get the time to reach out to each other. And of course the main essence on Christmas is also fulfilled on Bara Din. The sacrifice that was made by the Savior is remembered, his unconditional love and compassion for us is honored, and people get the opportunity to express their faith, belief and gratitude to him, and spread his love to those around them.