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Published:December 9th, 2005 07:21 EST
Christmas: A holiday often overlooked in India

Christmas: A holiday often overlooked in India

By Noopur Shrivastav

Subi : Didi (sister), what did you ask from Santa?
Soni: I did not ask anything from him, he will give me whatever he feels I should get. Did you ask for anything?
Subi: I also did not ask anything, but Santa knows what children want, he knows that I want a globe this time.
Soni: Ok, let us see, if he brings a globe this time for you or not.

The two Hindu sisters were busy chattering in their veranda in the northern part of India last year. Their parents pretended not to overhear them, but they had to learn what their children’s expectations were. Their faith in Santa must not be shattered and on Christmas Eve, the two sisters anticipate getting the gifts they had asked for.

Come any Christmas, the preparations start in this Hindu family. The Christmas tree is adorned with bells, bulbs and stars, candles are lit up, prayer is recited and socks tucked under pillow before Goodnight adieu. I must accept this family is not only to celebrate Christmas; there are many families who share the joy in winter and where Santa brings gift for the tiny children.

I hail from a country far away from the Christian mainland, Europe and Americas. To our west is the Islam dominated Middle East, the northern side is Buddhism popular, China. Southern sides of the borders of the Indian subcontinent sink in the Indian Ocean like a cone penetrating into the ocean water.

But India herself is multi-cultural and we stand for Unity in diversity. The country's past and present has been dotted with the stories of religious hatred and intolerance. But people of all faith have lived there for ages. The colorful mosaic and tolerance of India is attributed to its past.

The original settlers in the territory were the people of the Indus valley civilization and they believed in Hinduism. But the conflict of power between local dynasties and kingdoms paved way for foreign attacks. Mahmood of Ghazni carried seventeen successive raids between 1001 and 1025 on India. But Mohammad of Ghur laid the foundations of foreign rule in India, and thus started the history of Muslim rule in the Indian peninsula. His rule was followed by the Khaljis, tughlag, Lodis and Sayyids and then came the Mughals.  

In 1526, Babar came to India and after defeating the Lodis became and king. The Mughals ruled for almost three centuries until 1857. After this the British rule started and India experienced Christianity.  Until 1947, India was a colony of the British Empire. They ruled them for about two centuries and introduced Christianity in the subcontinent. Common man heard and saw the celebration of Christianity. Missionaries and English medium schools brought the younger generation closer to the events of new faith. Late in the 1990s, the wide spread reach of television and cable brought Santa and Christmas to the Indian household.

A survey conducted by the government of India in 2001 reported that out of the total population of 1.028 billion in the country, the Hindus made up 827 million and constituted 80.5 percent of the population of the country. The Muslim population stood at 138 million, making up 13.4 percent of the population. The next in size are the Christians who make up 24 million of the population, followed by the Sikhs' 19 million, Buddhists' 7.9 million, Jains' 4.2 million and all other religions, including tribal, make up the remaining 6.6 million.

The mosaic of the country has enabled the intermingling of all religions; the festivity of one faith is incomplete without active participation of other sects. Why there is so much fuss about replacing “Merry Christmas" to “Happy Holidays?" What if other sects are not familiar with the terminologies of other religion? Can we try to read the love in expression, and can we invite human beings in our Christmas celebration? Will Santa withdraw his hand if a Hindu or Muslim child expected a gift from him this Christmas or in the near future? Please let there be happiness for all, which is the real spirit of Christmas.