Srinagar, Dec 25: Christmas was celebrated with traditional enthusiasm and religious gaiety here on Sunday.
Wearing Santa hats, a group of Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits on Sunday converged at a Holy Faith Church, MA Road here, distributed sweets and exchanged greetings. While local people, tourists and visitors—thronged the popular ski destination, Gulmarg, where the government's department of Tourism had made elaborate arrangements. Tourists were seen dressing as Santa Claus to celebrate Christmas.
“I have come here to participate in these festivities. I have learnt to respect each other’s faith and hold love and respect for each other,” Muhammad Meekail—who was part of a group of students from NIT, Srinagar, told Greater Kashmir at the Srinagar church.
“I am here for the first time. I don’t have any Christian friends. Some of us decided to come here to be part of the celebrations and see how our Christian brothers enjoy their festivities,” he added.
The biggest mass in the Valley was held at the Holy Family Catholic Church at Maulana Azad Road, Srinagar here where hundreds of Christians, including women and children, assembled to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ and held special prayers. The historical church was decorated with colourful buntings and balloons and it wore a festive look.
Among the believers were tourists from different parts of the country and world who joined the locals on an auspicious day and prayed for world peace and brotherhood.
‘MESSAGE OF HARMONY, BROTHERHOOD’
A group of Muslims were seen thronging the Catholic Church in Srinagar city on Sunday to celebrate the festival with their Christian brethren to give a message of communal harmony and brotherhood. The members were seen distributing sweets, exchanging greetings with the Christian brethren and also wearing Santa hats to share the joy and celebrate the festival.
Talking to reporters here, Maulana Abdullah, who was leading the groups, said they came to the Church to celebrate the festival with their Christian brethren and to spread the message of communal harmony, brotherhood and peace.
“This is a small community here and they feel isolated on such festive occasions, so took this opportunity and came here to celebrate this festival with them with the aim that they don’t isolate and also give a message of communal harmony and brotherhood,” he said.
He lashed out at the vested interests, saying they have been spreading fake narratives across the globe that minorities were not safe here, which is not true.
“We came here today to bust that narrative and wanted to show the world that we are one and we belong to one god as well, regardless of our religions,” he added.
Shushant Chatoo from Habba Kadal said that he along with his friends came to celebrate Christmas in Srinagar. “We must respect people of all faiths, that is what we have been taught,” he said.
Talking to devotees and visitors, Father Brito said Christmas was a message of love, joy and happiness.
“Our Muslim brothers have always stood by us on these occasions and Christmas is an occasion which gives us an opportunity to share that joy, happiness and brotherhood with each other,” he said.
Members of various other communities including Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs were seen thronging churches and joining their Christian brothers for mass as special prayers were held for world peace. Similar prayers were held at other churches including the Saint Joseph’s Church in north Kashmir’s Baramulla, the oldest Catholic Church in Jammu and Kashmir and at the Church in the tourist resort of Gulmarg.
“We prayed for peace across the globe, especially in Kashmir on the birth of Jesus”, one of the participants of the mass held at the Holy Family Catholic church said. However, people missed ‘White Christmas’ as there was no snowfall in Srinagar, so far.
“We are disappointed that there was no snowfall on Christmas eve. Although we will be able to see snow at Gulmarg, fresh snowfall on this day adds to the beauty of the festival,” Seetha Venkatesh from the southern state of Kerala, said.
“Keeping our yearly tradition alive, I along with my family joined Christmas Eve Celebrations at Holy Family Catholic Church in Srinagar. We prayed for everyone’s well-being with lots of love and happiness with family and friends,” Sheikh Khalid Jehangir said.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, expressed his greetings to all on the joyous occasion of Christmas. “The festival epitomises the spirit of forgiveness & peace. It is an occasion to celebrate & imbibe Jesus Christ's message of brotherhood, compassion & forgiveness. May the Christmas this year usher in peace, happiness and joy for all.”
Director General of Police, J&K, Dilbag Singh extended warm greetings to the NoKs of slain police men, serving, and retired police personnel, their families, security forces and the people of Jammu and Kashmir especially Christians on the auspicious occasion of Christmas.
Army’s Chinar Corps spokesperson extended greetings on Christmas, saying “Christmas will always be as long as we stand heart to heart & hand in hand. We convey best wishes to all ranks, families, veterans, civil defence employees & citizens of Kashmir on the occasion of Christmas.”