Christmas celebrated across India under shadow of COVID-19

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New Delhi, Dec 25 (PTI) The COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow on Christmas celebrations this year as people followed strict protocols and celebrated the holiday in a low-key manner across the country.

The peal of midnight bells in churches and carols reverberating in praise of Lord Jesus ushered in the yuletide spirit in Goa.

The Christmas celebration in the state, where nearly 30 per cent population is Christian, started with traditional fervour amid strict adherence to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down by the state government.

'People came out in large numbers to attend the midnight mass. However, only 200 people were allowed to attend the mass in each church and the attendees had to maintain physical distance, wear masks and sanitise their hands,' a priest attached to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Panaji said on Friday.

The festival will continue till the New Year, the priest added.

At some places, special pandals were set up outside the churches to accommodate those people who could not attend the mass inside.

Apart from the churches and chapels, people also thronged the beaches across the state at midnight. Markets in the state were seen packed with items used to decorate cribs, depicting the birth of Lord Jesus.

For the first time since Christianity was introduced in the picturesque state of Mizoram in 1890s, the traditional way of celebrating Christmas was shunned due to COVID-19 protocols in place across the state.

Traditionally, church service, carols, congregational gatherings called 'Zaikhawm' in local parlance (singing Christmas songs and hymns in group) and community feast form dominated Mizoram.

This year the state government has banned all such practices to prevent further spread of coronavirus.

Churches of different denominations, held online programmes through local cable televisions and other media platforms to convey Christmas messages to the people.

Presbyterian Church, the largest denomination in the state, has been organising Christmas live crusade through local cable TV since Christmas eve delivering sermons and singing Christmas songs to cheer up the people.

On Friday, different churches organised online church service through TV and Zoom.

As community feasts were not possible this year, some churches donated their contributed money (for community feast) to the needy while other churches used it for buying meat for them.

Some families collected Christmas offerings, which they donated to the poor.

A Young Mizo Association (YMA) leader said many groups, NGOs and individuals reached out to the poor, orphanages and rehabs with alms to convey the message of peace and love to the people to mark the celebration.

In Tamil Nadu, churches saw devotees offering prayers strictly adhering to all the protocols.

Members of the Christian community, while maintaining social distancing norms and wearing masks, attended midnight masses and special prayers held in various churches, including the ancient Santhome Basilica here and exchanged greetings.

Devotees were directed to collect tokens before entering churches so as to ensure limited number of them were allowed were present in view of the pandemic.

Christians decorated their houses with Christmas tree and stars. Children carried candles and the Bible in small processions in their respective neighbourhoods.

The Shrine Basillica of Our Lady of Health at Vailankannai in Nagapattinam district also saw devotees offering prayers following the norms laid down in view of the pandemic.

Nagaland celebrated Christmas with religious fervour and joy with many churches holding live online Christmas services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The midnight services on Thursday welcoming the birth of Jesus was limited to lesser congregations in Churches following the COVID-19 protocols.

In the state capital Kohima, while many churches cancelled the main celebrations with masses in church premises, several conducted live online Christmas services and held special mass in churches with gathering of believers in phases.

The Christian community in Kerala on Friday celebrated Christmas with traditional fervour and piety, but all festivities and rituals were performed in compliance with COVID protocols.

Cutting across age barriers, devotees including children and senior citizens, could be seen wearing masks and cleansing hands with sanitisers before entering church halls for attending special prayers and midnight mass.

Devotees as well as clergy maintained social distancing strictly in a majority of churches and cathedrals.

As church bells tolled signalling the moment of nativity, the devotees congregated for midnight service in churches across the southern state where senior bishops and priests conducted special masses and gave out the Christmas message.

However, the usual vibrant festivities on Christmas eve including mass carols were missing in many places in the state due to the COVID alert.

While Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis led the midnight mass at St Mary's Cathedral of Syro Malankara Catholic Church at Pattam here, Archbishop Soosa Pakiyam led prayers at the St Joseph's Metropolitan Cathedral at Palayam here.

Syro Malabar Catholic Church Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alenchery led the service and gave out the Christmas message at St Mary's Basilica in Ernakulam.

The state's commercial hub Kochi saw a different Christmas celebration this time as a group of devotees rode bicycles from Edappally to Nedumbassery marking the festival occasion. PTI TEAM AAR AAR