By Upagupt Mohanty

Jingle bells… jingle bells… jingle all the way…

Its that time of the year once again for celebration and merry making- Merry Christmas! An occasion to celebrate the birth of Christ as well as a day of deep spiritual renewal as it is also the time for all the family members to gather together and celebrate.

The vibrant state of Odisha too gets a joyful makeover to celebrate the season of Christmas right upto New Year. A wave of festive enthusiasm finds its way into churches across Odisha. The churches are brightly illuminated with rice lights over the bell towers with bow wreath, glittering streamers along the walls and other Christmas ornament such as stars, balls, pinecones etc. In some churches, figurines depicting the life of Jesus Christ- starting from birth in a manger/cattle shed to crucifiction and also known as ‘Nativity’- are put up as a part of the celebration. While some light candles at the church, others participate in mass prayers, carol singing, kissing of Jesus at midnight and exchange of gifts. The age old famous hymns and carols like ‘Silent Night’, ‘Hark the Herald’ and the ‘Jingle Bells’.

The contest for smartness of dress is not confined to women. Men and kids do take part to look their best too. Not to ignore the youngsters who coat themselves in red with Santa Claus costumes and caps. To pump up pre-Christmas shopping fever, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, bakeries and confectionary shops deck up with bright lights and Christmas trees, elevating the mood of love and happiness. There is no discrimination and anyone could take part in the birthday celebrations. “I am not a Christian but every year I do visit the church with my Christian friends on Christmas day. I feel really good about it. It is all about enjoying the diversity of our culture” says Snigdha Mohanty, school student. Every Christian house will definitely have the ‘Stars of David’ and a beautiful ly decorated Christmas tree. On the 24th of December, tradition of hanging Christmas stockings with small toys, candys, coins etc that the kids love, may date back as far as the 4th century CE, but has clearly been very popular till date in every household having children. In addition, colourfully wrapped gifts will be placed beneath the tree to carry out the myth of Santa Claus visiting every home with gifts. Preparation of this beautiful day starts two to three weeks before the 25th to make plum cakes, rose cookies, Kul Kuls and our very own Arisa Pitha too.

                                                                                                                                    St. Vincent De Paul Pro Cathedral

While the churches in the state gear up to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, lovingly called “Jisu”, Coffee Bytes team spoke exclusively to two important churches in Bhubaneswar on the celebration.

Rev. Bichitrananda Sathpathy of Church of Christ(Union Church) at Bhauma Nagar said “ On Christmas, we have worship service with two different timings. One starts on Christmas eve which is a midnight worship service on 24th night called as Watch Night Service. Then on 25th ie Chrismas Day, we have worship service in two languages. The morning worship service of Lord Jesus Christ, remembering his birth and purpose is in English language while in the afternoon it is in Odia language, followed by a get together sharing joy and happiness on this special day. We celebrate and invite others to join the celebration so that birth of Christ becomes meaningful in their lives also”.

Rev. Prasanna Kumar Pradhan of St. Vincent De Paul Pro Cathedral at Satya Nagar said “On Christmas, we celebrate by Mass prayer and Eucharist celebration. As per Catholic faith, the Eucharist celebration is foremost. In this celebration we remember the pain, death and resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ and through the process we celebrate his real presence. The last meal of Jesus as instituted by him 2017 years ago is still followed in Catholic faith in his remembrance. Remembering the birth of Lord Jesus Christ, we all celebrate Christmas with great joy and happiness”.

Besides the celebration,how did Christianity enter Odisha? Lets explore…. The history of Christianity in Odisha dates back to the Portugese colonization as it played a vital role in the beginning of Christianity (Catholicism) in Odisha, particularly in the Balasore region. It was in the year 1514 portugese traders ( who were Catholics) touched Pipli, an ancient port at the mouth of the river Subarnarekha in Balasore district. Portugese traders and religious establishment gave an entry to Christianity to Odisha. Being close to sea and a navigable river made Pipli a significant business centre which attracted lot of Portugese settlement. The settlers were the first to build factories in Odisha. The Augustinian Missionaries from Goa (under Augustinian Missionaries from Portugal) began visiting Pipli to attend the spiritual needs of settlers. The Augustinians erected a small church in Pipli dedicated to “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary” in the year 1606. Pipli became a strong catholic centre by the end of 17th century. Around 1625, the ancient port of Pipli was swallowed by the sea so the settlers along with Augustinian Missionaries moved to Balasore. They built another church, dedicated to “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary” in the year 1640. Balasore became a cradle for Catholicism. The Augustinian Missionaries left Odisha around 1699. Then, there was a decline in Christianity.

Church of Christ (Union Church)

The second prominent phase of Christianity came when Odisha became a part of British Empire.The f irst missionary society which entered Odisha was Baptist Missionary Society. It was in 1837 the first press got established in Cuttack by missionaries which was known as Cuttack Mission Press for publication of Christian books and tracts for outreach. Then, Christianity as a religion slowly gained a footing in Odisha.

Our Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das aka Madhu Babu (real name being Gobind Ballabha) embraced Christianity. Being a statesman, he fought legal battles against the British Government for the protection and preservation of age old sanctity of the Puri Jagannath temple, won the battle and handed it over to the Dowager Rani Surjyamani Pattamahadei for Puri Maharaj Gajapati. According to Dr. Harekrishna Mahtab “Madhu Babu was inspired by two cardinal virtues of Christianity-humility and forgiveness. Though a Christian, he believed in the essential equality of religions.”

So let the spirit of Christmas be remembered as a ‘Joy to the World’ and peace amongst mankind.

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