ISLAMABAD: Christmas is a period of festivities and joys celebrated across the world to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Celebrated every year on December 25, the event also serves as a beginning of the New Year celebrations, together making it a long holiday to bid adieu to the departing year.
There was once a time when in every Christian household, the thresholds were decorated with Christmas trees and holly, and all joined in to make merry. However, while the increasing inflation, unemployment and poverty has hit the mostly poor Christian community hard making it difficult to indulge in any festivity, the comparatively well placed members of the minority community complain about the changed attitude of the majority in which they feel segregated.
The poor Christians who live in the capital’s Katchi Abadis present an unhappy scene on an occasion like this as these shanty dwellings are devoid of the very basic amenities of life like water, gas and electricity. The Allama Iqbal Colony is one such Katchi Abadi located in the heart of the Capital in the vicinity of G-7 Markaz. For the dwellers of this slum Christmas is just another day. Yet the spirited among them try to forget the worries of their daily drudgery and join the celebrations. They could be seen decorating their Basti with lights and buntings.
“It is difficult for me to feed my family twice a day, let alone celebrate a festival like Christmas in this period of high inflation,” said Munir Masih, who is a daily-wage earner. He said there are days when they have nothing to eat because he is unable to find work. Christmas is welcome when he has work and his family has eaten.
“On this Christmas my wife and I did not buy anything for ourselves but bought a dress for our one and only child,” he told The Express Tribune.
Nazir Masih, who is above 70 years old, works as a milkman in the nearby cattle farms. He is the sole bread earner of a family of five.
“Christmas is a festival of happiness, but celebrations depend on money. Who can join the festivities at Rs4,500 a month?,” he asked.
For majority of them the Christmas Fund is a source of support but this year most of them could not get it.
“I tried a lot to get the fund this Christmas so buy new clothes for my children but failed,” said Riaz Masih who is a painter.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Rehmat Babu, General Secretary, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Minority Wing, Islamabad chapter, said that the government donates a Christmas fund to the Christian community, but due to lack of a system and mismanagement it could not reach the deserving families.
The Ministry of Minorities hands over the fund to the representatives of the communities who later distribute the money among the people of their choice.
Babu further said that some of the poor people went to the ministry to get the funds and also to Pakistan Baitul Mal to request for financial support, but they were told that all the money had been spent on the flood victims. He said there many families in the Iqbal Colony, a Katchi Abadi in G-7 Sector, who were living in worse conditions than the flood victims.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities, denied the allegations and said that equal amounts of money had been distributed among the deserving people of the community without any favour or bias.
The minister said whoever comes to his ministry seeking financial support “is always given warm welcome and his/her request has always been entertained”.
Apart from the financial worries of the poor Christians the better-off among them complain about the attitude of the majority community which has changed over the years. There was a time when all would join in the Christmas festivities but now the minorities are treated as second rate citizens and most people avoid their company.
“We live in fear,” said one Christian serving on a good post in a private firm. “In this climate who can enjoy a festive occasion like Christmas,” he mused.
Christmas Eve celebrated with religious fervour
Christmas Eve celebrations started late in the evening on Friday and went on till midnight, as the Christian community marked the beginning of the Christmas season. People decorated their houses and gifts were exchanged. Different churches were specially illuminated for the occasion. All the main churches of the twin cities held Christmas functions. People sung carols.
Carols are joyful songs celebrating the birth of Christ and are usually sung in congregation with the choirs. Women and children, wearing colourful clothes, flocked to the churches congregations where they took part in the carols to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Dressed in red and sporting long grey beards, Santa Clauses could be spotted at all major churches in the twin cities as they distributed gifts among the children. People hosted dinners for friends and families and gifted cakes to each other.
Islamabad Police had made strict security arrangements at all the churches to prevent any possible mishap.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2010.