Indian Christmas



Intro: The Christmas season in India coincides with a national parliamentary election this year, making for an unusual combination of Yuletide ceremonies and frenetic electioneering. VOA correspondent Don Weaver reports from New Delhi.

Text: (music tape) This Tamil language choral group with a Catholic priest joining in treated New Delhi families to several hours of door-to-door Christmas carols.

With the media devoting large segments of time and space to the parliamentary election, the Christmas celebrations were somewhat muted this year. Last-minute shoppers were disappointed to find stores closed on Christmas because of the first day of voting. As one columnist put it, "the joy of Christmas has been leavened with the elections and their hectic activities."

Another writer said Christmas is in low profile this year, dampened by the tragedies of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination, communal clashes and the lethal Union Carbide gas accident at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Christmas is considered by many as a holdover from the days of the British Raj in this land, which is two-thirds Hindu. But it is observed as a national holiday In India. The sub-Continent has a missionary ground of such Christian nations as Portugal and France. There were towering church figures, like Saint Thomas the Apostle, who according to tradition preached the Gospel in South India. Another was Saint Francis Xavier, whose relics are being exhibited in Goa for perhaps the last time.

This Christmas churches in India maintained the ancient traditions of joyous Christmas services, nativity scenes, pageants and choral singing. Lighted paper mache stars were strung up among election posters in Calcutta. The Young Men's Christian Association hostel in New Delhi was brightly lighted with large depictions of the Three Wise Men heading for Bethlehem.

New Delhi television kept spirits up with a presentation of a classic Christmas film with American actor, Jimmy Stewart, "It's a Wonderful Life."

President Zail Singh greeted Christians with a special message, saying Jesus Christ preached universal love and brotherhood two thousand years ago, which is of even greater relevance today. He urged the people to follow Christ's teachings of universal love and brotherhood.

In Calcutta, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had a midnight mass on Christmas eve and sang nativity hymns. Mother Teresa, visiting her orphanage in New Delhi, told VOA Christmas is a very happy and beautiful time of the year.

(tape Mother Teresa)

"It's the coming of the Prince of Peace and it brings joy to so many lives. So thank God that we have it and thank God that many people share with us the joy of Christmas. This is the coming of the Prince of Peace and He has come to give us the good news that God loves us.

(Tamil music tape)

A Tamil Christmas caroling group joined with Mother Teresa in wishing all mankind a happy Christmas season.