KARACHI: Twenty-three-year-old Shumailaý was almost done with her home decorations for Christmas seven months ago. During the first five months of 2016, she chanced upon a seven-foot tall plastic fir tree, half ceramic half clay figurines of the Holy Family and the Wise Men, a round wreath of plastic holly and Santa stockings , among other ornaments, at a flea market in Karachi's congested Saddar neighbourhood.
Shumaila says she quickly scooped up items as soon as she spottedý them off any of the dozens of pushcarts used by the vendors.
"Believe it or not, I purchased most of the best ornaments and baubles and tassels on my Christmas tree in April when we were celebrating Easter," Shumaila says with a smile. Pointing to her glistening Christmas tree, she says with a cackle: "This green fir tree was bought in June with a little help from my brother".
Basheer Masihý has been a regular shopper at the flea market. He tells his mother he is out on a mission: rescuing religious artefacts and ensuring they are not desecrated. At first, his mother was not entirely convinced about his intentions. But only when he brought home a rosary from an obscure Bosnian town that he found on a pushcart crammed with toys did she believe him. "Now I make it a point to give him money so that he can make such purchases," she says. Basheer and his friends have found plenty of Christmas ornaments since then. His home is bedecked with shiny wreaths, stars and an assortment of figurines for his Christmas crib. "They are unlike any figurines made locally or the ones sold at the Daughters of St Paul," Bashir claims.
His crèche is the pride of the parish communityý in Qayyumabad. The stable and manger as well as the animals housed in it have all been handcrafted by him. "Only the statues of infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph are imported. I used them because they were just too special," he adds.
Most Catholic ýhomes in Karachi tend to have a crib depicting the nativity scene in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Through the years, Catholic priests have enjoined the faithful to devote more time and effort to building crèches than decorating their Christmas trees. Parish churches, even those in bastis and shanty towns, tend to have the largest and most elaborate crèches.
Anything from paper to wood and straw to dry rock and stones are used to make the manger. Volunteers spend hours labouring over their construction. Catechist Master Riaz says these days crèches are modified every year. "We try to build different stylised structures using different materials," Riaz explains. "In most cases, we use the same statues and figurines depicting the Holy Family, the shepherds and the Magi."
ýLenny and Javed are amateur sculptors and painters. Some of their works adorn churches in Karachi and Hyderabad. They reckon that households are producing brighter, better and more inventive crèches than ever.
"People are getting quite creative in the age of the internet. Perhaps we could hold an annual competition for the best crèche," suggested Javed, who has been making religious statues for the last two decades.
Some Catholics believe their creations need to be displayed among larger audiences instead of being restricted only to Catholic homes. Lenny thinks Pakistani Christian crafts, especially those with religious motifs, have evolved into a rich art form that could find appreciation and fame within Pakistan as well as abroad.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2016.
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