12/21/2004, 00.00
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Christmas in an Islamic country: festivities, traditions and solidarity

by Qaiser Felix
Exams are held earlier in Christian schools to prepare Nativity plays; streets and homes are decorated; Caritas offers dinner to 300 kids in juvenile prison.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – How do you celebrate Christmas in a country where intolerance and discrimination against non Muslims reign? By not letting it get to you and preparing the festivities with lights, songs and a lot of solidarity.

As soon as Advent is around the corner, the faithful start to feel the spirit of Christmas. Whether Protestant or Catholic, they start to decorate their churches for Sunday mass. In Christian schools and institutions evening are delighted with music and plays.

In Waris pura parish, the largest in the diocese of Faisalabad, the faithful embellish houses and streets. Christmas trees go up in people's homes and new clothes are bought for children. Multicolour stars brighten rooftops.

In schools December is supposed to be the month for third term exams, but in Christian Schools they are often anticipated to November or the first week of December so that the rest of the month can be spent in Christmas preparations. Students need the time to rehearse for the Nativity play, usually staged on the last days of school of December 20 or 21 before Winter break.

Christmas is a time for charities to help the poor, the sick and those in prison. In Faisalabad Caritas this year is organising a special Christmas dinner for the 300 young inmates at the Borstal Institute and Juvenile Prison.

Anjum Gill, executive secretary of the Faisalabad branch of Caritas, told AsiaNews that they are allocating the funds for their Christmas budget to this event.

Giving gifts is an old tradition. Traditionally, men give glass bangles to women of their family. Women, on the other hand, wear henna to create traditional hand and foot decorations known as mehndi.

At Midnight and Christmas Day mass churches are full. Christmas itself is known as Bara Din, the great day, when people put on their brightest clothes to meet others in an atmosphere of brotherhood.

Since December 25 is a national holiday in Pakistan non Christians celebrate it too for it was on his day in 1876 that Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, was born.

Pakistan has a population of 143 million, 96.1 per cent Muslim. Christians represent 2.5 per cent or 3.8 million. Catholics are about 1,288,000.

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