Celebratory religious events such as Eid-ul-Azha, Eid-ul-Fitr, Christmas, Diwali or Easter are always a cause of some form of debate in Pakistan. Yes, we are the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and celebrating all non-Islamic events might feel like an affront to many. But, it is Christmas today. It is a “Big Day” for many who are by all essence Pakistani. Christianity may not be the state religion in Pakistan, but Christians make up one of the two largest religious minorities in Pakistan, along with Hindus and have all the right to celebrate in peace and with fervor. But let me tell you why it might also be okay to celebrate Christmas even if you are not a Christian!
Pakistan is not just for the Muslims
This has probably become a nagging anthem: Pakistan’s flag has a portion of white in our flag, minuscule as it may be, which represents the minorities. Moreover, Pakistan was formed as a safe haven for minorities facing persecution in whatever shape or form. However, when you ask a Christian citizen about their patriotism, they often feel the love for their country is one-sided. So, this Christmas let’s greet those celebrating with a smile to tell them that they are welcome, they are home.
Stand in solidarity with the persecuted members of our nation
One of the deadliest terrorist attacks took place on a Christian celebration last year. The Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park blast claimed 72 lives of peaceful citizens celebrating Easter. More recently, last week, 9 were killed and over 50 injured in the Quetta Church blast. These are just two instances of the harrowing rise of religious intolerance in Pakistan. Now, before everyone points to statistics of how Muslims die too let me ask this: How is religious affiliation relevant when an innocent life is lost? We mourned the blast and the lives lost. The politicians were quick to offer condolences too. Why not take our support for the Christian community a step further? Let’s stand with our fellow countrymen this Christmas, when fear of persecution is high, even at joyous times. Let them know that we stand to protect each other to find happiness when times seem bleak.
Celebrating Christmas doesn’t have to mean believing in the religious aspect of it
Christmas is a religious and cultural festival. Religiously it marks the birth of Jesus. Culturally, it signifies a lot more. In Pakistan, there may not be a complete holiday atmosphere like Eid. Unfortunately, like Eid even Christmas comes with price hikes, making gift giving difficult. And, chances are someone near you is celebrating today. Take something for them to eat. Or a little gift maybe? It won’t harm any religious principle as you don’t have to believe in the Christian Trinitarian ideology to join in someone’s happiness. On the contrary, it will just foster support and unity. Even Islam preaches it!
Christmas is not a “western” thing; you won’t lose your cultural identity by celebrating
As obvious as it is, this point is lost on many Pakistanis. Those refuting Christmas celebrations in Pakistan often say that it is a western celebration and that Pakistanis must refrain and stay true to their ‘culture’. However, Pakistani culture is not homogenous. But, certain fundamental aspects such as being family oriented or neighborly are agreed upon cultural values that South Asia generally prides itself on. So, being part of a Christian neighbor’s happiness in celebrating Christmas as an event of togetherness is certainly not going against your culture. It is actually strengthening it.
And lastly, everything, including the Christmas tree, is just so beautiful:
Interestingly, the Christmas tree possibly originated as an ornamental piece and not a religious one. Germans first began bringing in trees inside their houses and decorated them with candles to create a beautiful environment for their families. Just like Muslims like to celebrate with lights and fireworks on Eid, Christians celebrate Christmas with a brightly lit tree. And Pakistan too, has pockets where beautiful light displays create a festive environment. Bakeries make special Christmas cakes, people exchange gifts and generally, the atmosphere is that of joyfulness. It is a time to get together and celebrate amidst the daily mundane challenges of life in Pakistan.
And maybe as a refreshing first, take cue from Pakistan International Airline’s who kept the spirit of celebration alive and spread smiles on a day perfect to strengthen national solidarity.