Different countries have their own distinct ways of celebrating Christmas, and North East India is no exception in this regard. The numerous tribes of this region dedicate the day to their God, with each community coming together and spending the day in harmony. Let us have a look at how Christmas celebrations take place in some of the North Eastern states.
Christmas Celebrations in Assam
For the Christian tribes of Assam, Christmas is a time to get together and spread the message of love, faith and unity. They congregate at churches for prayers, hymns and Holy Communion. Famous churches of Assam include Christ Church, Don Bosco Church, and Guwahati Baptist Church. At Christ Church, celebrations last almost a month, beginning with the first Advent Sunday of December and ending with the Feast of Epiphany in January.
Guwahati Baptist Church attracts both Protestants and Catholics on this holiday, showing a unique form of solidarity. A few of the traditions that are commonly followed are the singing of carols (which may begin as early as the second week of December), reading scriptures from the Bible, midnight masses, cultural programs and visiting old age homes and hospitals.
Christmas Celebrations in ManipurManipur is teeming with a large number of tribal communities and so one can expect the birthday of Jesus Christ to be honoured in various ways. For the Tangkhuls of Ukhrul, the celebration is a perfect blend of their old traditions and the new. The festival commences on the 24th with ceremonial slaughter of pigs, a ritual similar to Romanian tradition. Then, the people of the community go to their local church to attend the midnight service, after which they spend the night singing carols and visiting houses. On the morning of the 25th, there is another service at church, followed by lunch at home (which is eaten outside the house and shared with others).
The youths of the community participate in sports competitions in the afternoon, and the evening ends with a final service. In some villages, prizes are awarded to the best decorated Christmas tree.
The Kuki people get the chance to reunite with their family members who are cadres of the revolutionary armies. At Chandel district, the celebration occurs at the camp. There are Bible recital competitions between the cadres; the women visitors take part in volleyball matches; singing contests are held, and grand prizes are distributed to the winners, while the other participants walk away with consolation prizes. The three days long celebration truly highlights the spirit of the festival.
Christmas Celebrations in Meghalaya
The ethnic communities of Meghalaya add their own flavor to Christmas celebration. Midnight vigils are held throughout the state, and the churches are beautifully illuminated. In the Garo hills, for example, women attend the prayers in their traditional garb, and the people sing hymns and perform community dances.
Shillong attracts a large number of revelers who come to see the historic Christmas fir tree at All Saints Cathedral Hall Premises. Planted by the British over a hundred years ago and standing about a 150 feet tall, the tree is adorned with lights and decorative baubles. The Presbyterian Church oversees its decoration, which begins ten days prior to the 25th. Santa Clauses can be seen around town distributing gifts to children.
Christmas Celebrations in Mizoram
Christmas in Mizoram is a three-day event. A predominantly Christian state, every household participate in the festival, beautifying their houses and streets. On the 24th, the children of each family sit up and wait for dawn to arrive so they can receive their presents. Instead of Christmas stockings, the gifts are placed on the thlang-ra, a large plate. The next day, all families gather at the local church for a service, to remember the birth of Christ and to pray. The last day of the festival is honored with lavish feasts in all localities of the state. The meals are prepared by the people of the locality and eaten together.
Christmas Celebrations in Nagaland
Like Mizoram, Nagaland’s population is mostly Christian. Like Manipur and Meghalaya, it has many different tribes living together, so the celebrations differ from tribe to tribe, even villages to villages. The Angamis, for instance, usually enjoy family picnics during Christmas season. However, church service and community-building activities are common to all the tribes. The church services are conducted to reiterate the birth of Christ, and nativity plays are shown in various places.
In some villages, the performers compete for the best nativity play; Mokokchung village awards the winner a cake. In the week leading up to Christmas, children go from door to door singing carols, and the owner of the house gives them treats. Entertainment shows are organised. Groups of people also visit orphanages and old age homes, armed with presents, to give them company on this auspicious day.
Although the celebration takes on a new shape as we move from community to community, it can be seen that in the North East, Christmas is not just about merry-making; it’s the season that brings them close to their God, and to their people.