Reported by Ayaskant Das/Sandeep Sarangi
Bhubaneswar, Dec 24:
Dazzling lights over the bell towers, red and green streamers along the walls and stars over the main aisle brighten the churches in Odisha.
Preparations for this year’s Christmas celebrations are in full swing at St Vincent’s Catholic Church in Satya Nagar here. Like previous years, the organisers have bedecked the worship place and its premises with Christmas Tree, lights, stars, bells, music and chimes. On Christmas eve, carol singing followed by masses will be celebrated at the church.
‘‘Everybody is in a joyous mood. The preparations are in full swing. We are going to celebrate the birth anniversary of our liberator. The crib and the nativity scene have been recreated for the Jesus Christ’s birth. As per our belief, Jesus was born 2000 years back to liberate us. To mark this, we are celebrating Christmas. The preparations have started from December 1,’’ the head of the Odisha Catholic Church said.
‘‘Celebrations would start from midnight where we would observe the birth of Jesus Christ. Cultural programmes have been scheduled for tomorrow from 5 PM to 9 PM. Jesus Christ took birth to liberate us from our sins. We are indebted towards Him and happy to celebrate Christmas,’’ said Santosh Digal, father of the Catholic Church.
The method of celebration is different for the different sects of Christians though. Pratap Sahoo of Church of Christ on Sachivalaya Marg here said, “The Christmas program in our church started on December 17 and will reach its culmination today. We had Christmas carol worship by an Odia choir last Sunday. The Pastor will lead the mass tonight and we are expecting 300-400 people to attend. We expect an even higher turn our tomorrow.”
Highlighting the difference of their church, he said, “We celebrate Christmas as per Protestant traditions and are against idol worship, unlike the Catholics. We mark this day and December 31 every year as days to surrender ourselves to the God and as Thanksgiving to God. We will mark the day by prayers and dance.”
On Christmas eve, the capital city is buoyant with celebrations as churches, streets and markets wear a illuminated look. With big stars hung in shopping malls, cake shops and gift corners, the shopaholics were seen thronging the market for last-minute pickings.
‘‘I desperately wanted a prom dress for Christmas. I have shopped to my heart’s content. I have bought chocolates, pastries, and gifts for my friends,’’ said Jimmy Jose, a student of St Joseph High School here.
City shopping malls like Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Vishal Mega Mart, Bazaar Kolkata Bazar, Reliance Trends, and the Unit-1 market saw a surge in footfall as people flooded the market for shopping for the annual festival.
Reports of joyous celebrations have come from Cuttack, Brahmapur, Rourkela, Sambalpur and all other major towns in the state.
However, it is a sombre celebration in communally-sensitive Kandhamal district because of incidents during this period in 2008.
Security arrangements have been heightened and security apparatus put on high alert to ensure peaceful passage of Christmas in the district.
Frisking of vehicles and patrolling has been stepped up at various vulnerable points, said Kandhamal Superintendent of Police (SP) KB Singh.
“Patrolling has been stepped up along with checking, blocking and search at vulnerable places. Security has been tightened particularly at places of worship, prayer houses and entry points of the district. We have deployed 31 platoons of armed forces, including Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Special Operation Group (SOG) and District Volunteer Force (DVF)”, the SP said.
Strict vigil is being maintained in sensitive areas and police personnel across the district have been put on alert to prevent any untoward incident during the festival, Singh said.
Armed forces have been deployed round the clock in and around selected churches and areas with large minority population for maintenance of law and order, the SP said.
Police said it is keeping a close watch on anti-social elements and history-sheeters.