BANGLADESH

December 25th is a public holiday for Christmas in Bangladesh even though only about 0.3% of the population, of about 170 million people, are Christians! (Over 85% of people in Bangladesh are Muslims.) Christmas is known as ‘Borodin’ (or ‘Bara din’) which means ‘the big day’ in Bengali. Happy/Merry Christmas in Bengali is shubho [or shuvo] bôṛodin (শুভ বড়দিন).

In big towns and cities, shops and hotels will have ‘western’ style Christmas decorations like fake snow and artificial Christmas Trees with lots of lights. Having a Christmas tree in your home is also becoming more popular, especially among Christians. More people are also exchanging Christmas cards.

Christians who live in big towns and cities often try and go home to their villages to spend Christmas with their families. Catholic Christians will go to a Midnight Mass service. Christmas morning church services are also popular with Christians. A way of decorating buildings for different festive occasions in Bangladesh are ‘Nishan’ (which means small flag). These are strings made of hundreds of small pink paper triangles.

Traditionally in Bengali churches, the men sit on one side of the church and women sit on the other. Popular Christmas songs include ‘Aaj Shuvo Borodin bhai, aaj Shuvo Borodin’ which means ‘Today is Happy Borodin, friend/brother, today is Happy Borodin’.

Another type of traditional song from Bangladesh which is also sung at Christmas, in churches and homes, are ‘kirtan’. In Bengali Christian culture, the kirtan is performed with a singer who leads the song and everyone else follows them. The songs starts off slowly but gets faster and faster! The song is done with people in a circle – the leader stands in the middle. So when it starts you walk slowly around the circle but by the end you’re dancing/running around! The leaders also sometimes dance in and out of the circle as it gets faster. Kirtans are also done in villages from house to house – very exciting carol singing!

Following church services, especially in rural areas, it’s traditional that everyone has Christmas dinner together at the church. This is called the ‘Preeti-bhoj’ or ‘Prem-bhoj’ which means ‘love feast’. The meal often includes dishes like chicken and vegetable curries served with rice and vegetables.

Other special Christmas foods are ‘pitha’ (sweet rice cakes made of rice flour, milk, coconut and molasses) and ‘payesh’ (rice pudding). Different areas have their own recipes for versions of pitha. Western Christmas Cake has becoming popular over the last 30 years, especially in urban areas.

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