Merry Christmas! by Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Like other parts of world, preparations to celebrate Christmas started in Pakistan with traditional zeal and enthusiasm. Members of the Christian community are attending special services at beautifully-decorated churches where prayers are also being offered for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan.

Literally, Christmas means ‘Christ-mass’, and the day is being celebrated throughout the world since hundreds of years. It is an universal fact that every religion asks its followers to ensure peace, humanity and harmony in society. The purpose to celebrate any religious festival is to spread the positive message of God. As far as Christmas is concerned, I believe it also reflects spiritual message.

On the occasion of Christmas, people decorate their homes and churches with evergreen trees, which are the symbol of eternal life. The presence of candles reminds that Christ is the light of the world. Red reflects the sacrifice of Christ. Bells are linked with ringing out news. This is what I learn about Christmas while interacting with my Christian friends.

Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, or simply Santa, is a legendary figure, who is generally represented as a white-bearded man wearing a red dress and carries a bag full of gifts for children. Before Christmas, children write letters to Santa Claus, asking for toys for their good behaviour. However, Santa Claus is known as ‘Christmas Baba’ in our country.

Pakistan has a significant population of Christians who are contributing to society. Historically, the first Anglican Bishop of Lahore was appointed in 1877 under the British colonial rule. There are also many beautiful churches that were also built during British rule. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was founded in Karachi around 12 years before the War of Independence 1857. Other prominent historical churches included St Joseph’s Church Lahore, St Andrew’s Church Lahore, Saint Mary’s Cathedral Church Multan, the Holy Trinity Church Sialkot, and St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar. I believe that these historical churches have the potential for faith tourism, attracting Christians from the Europe and Christian world to Pakistan.

Christians also played a pivotal role for the success of the Pakistan Movement. Pothan Joseph was also one of those educated Christians who spread the message of Quaid-e-Azam in his community. The decisive vote of SP Singha, the Christian speaker of the then-Punjab Assembly, resulted to inclusion of current Punjab into Pakistan. Quaid-e-Azam, on various occasions, also promised that all citizens of Pakistan would enjoy complete equality of citizenship.

On the occasion of Christmas, we must also acknowledge the remarkable contributions of Pakistani Christians in every field of life. Many of them are serving in national institutions and other organisations. Some have received the highest civilian and military awards. Honourable Justice A R Cornelius was Pakistan’s first non-Muslim chief justice of the Supreme Court. On the defence front, the Pakistan Air Force is honoured to have some great pilots on board, including Cecil Chaudhry, Peter O’Reilly and Mervyn L Middlecoat. Similarly, Sara Alfred, Sunita Marshal, Nirmal Roy, Ashir Azeem, and Benita David are some prominent names belonging to mainstream media.

Every year, I try my best to become part of Christmas celebrations. The purpose is to share happiness, promote interfaith harmony and express solidarity with Christian friends. However, I always emphasise that on the happy occasions of religious festivals – whether Christmas, Eid or Diwali – we must not neglect those who are unable to celebrate happy moments. In every religion, the greatest act of kindness is giving charity to the poor. Supporting others is such a good deed that is encouraged by God.

In my view, religious festivals also provide an excellent opportunity to strengthen our bond with humanity and promote interfaith harmony. Therefore, there is a dire need to declare non-Muslim festivals like Christmas, Holi, Diwali and Easter as public holidays for every citizen. In this regard, I also moved a resolution in National Assembly.

Similarly, it is the responsibility of our national leadership that, besides issuing facilitation messages in the media, they must practically demonstrate interfaith harmony according to Quaid-e-Azam’s vision. The government must consider for offering special bonuses and relief packages on the eve of Christmas and other religious festivals. Merry Christmas!

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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