Today is Christmas Day, or ‘Boro Din’ in Bangla. For the Bengali Christian community, the day is the biggest festival of the year.
Christmas celebration has been around since the colonial era, and the modern secular celebration of the day has taken a distinctly native colour.
The synthesis of traditional Christian culture and the Bengali influence over it is one intriguing story. As every other Abrahamic religious festival, Christmas, much like Eid, has taken a Bengali makeover.
The writer talked to some people from the Christian community and tried to find out how Bengali culture influences the Christmas celebrations.
Marian Borsha, a student of the department of Organisational Strategy and Leadership, Dhaka University (DU), has been celebrating Christmas in Dhaka city.
Her Christmas celebration begins on the night of the 24th, with Christmas Eve Mass. She, along with her family and friends, goes to the Church and joins the mass.
Later, at the early night of the holy day, she greets her friends and family, beginning the day with wishes.
Borsha goes to a Baptist Church to join the feast, which is an important part of social gathering and merrymaking for her. The Christmas cake is complemented with various desi pitha, which, undoubtedly, is a fusion of Bengali culture.
Another aspect of such fusion is Kirtan, a Bengali version of the Christmas carol. The young fellows like Borsha gather around and visit one another's house singing songs and praising their Lord.
Kirtan is quite an extraordinary way to strengthen religious and cultural bonds for them.
“Christmas in villages is more colourful and enthusiastic,” says Athina Gomes, a student of Information Science and Library Management at DU.
In her words, Christmas is more of a cultural festival, rather than being a religious one. In rural areas, Christmas is celebrated with various sweets and cakes. People gather around and dance to the tune of desi instruments. It is a time of music, wine and frolicking.
Manuel D Rozario is a Bangladeshi undergraduate student and teaching assistant in Texas Tech University, USA. While reminiscing about his Christmas at home, he talks about how Bangladeshi Christmas is unique.
In Bangladesh, Manuel and his friends used to buy cakes in bulk on the days before Christmas. Then after the Christmas Day Mass, they came back from the church and had tea with the cakes.
For him, Christmas is an occasion when the whole family gathers together and meets their kin. People come from abroad to join their families at the festivities.
Christmas celebration has transcended its religious background and taken a secular status throughout the world. Bangladesh has yet to see such transcendence, mostly due to the diminishing Christian community.
Yet, Christmas remains somewhat a childhood fantasy, hardly any of the children are not excited about Santa Claus coming to their rooms and granting wishes.
The cakes, the Christmas trees, the glittering lights - all of these remain vibrant in the collective psyche. Numerous pop culture references, literary mentions and a lustrous era of bygone past have etched the impact of Christmas celebration into Bengali educated culture.
From the splendour of five-star hotels to the spiritually simple kirtans in villages, Christmas in Bangladesh remains part of its glorious pluralistic culture.