By Stephan Uttom and Rock Ronald Rozario
Naveed Hassan is the public relations manager at Dhaka’s Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel and his busiest period is from mid-December to the first week of January.
On Dec. 20, Hassan, a Muslim, briefed his colleagues on how to best cater for guests during Christmas and New Year celebrations.
“Every year, we have special arrangements during Christmas and they are increasingly popular among Christian and non-Christian visitors,” Hassan told ucanews.com. “This year, we have buffet dinner, a Christmas pool party for children, magic show, puppet show and a Santa Claus,” he said.
“Christmas programs run through Dec. 21-25 and then we prepare for New Year programs,” he said.
His five-star hotel in the Bangladeshi capital’s center is a prime location for upmarket Christmas parties and festivities attended by local and foreign guests including civil society, dignitaries, government officials and diplomatic corps.
“People from all faiths and ethnicities come here to attend various programs, so not only Christians are our target group,” said Hassan.
“Each day we have 2,000 tickets for guests but they are usually sold out quickly,” he said.
“Christians might be a minority in Bangladesh but Christmas has huge appeal to people of all faiths. Personally, I think the birthday of Jesus is a cause of celebration for all irrespective of caste and creed, and thus it’s a truly universal festival,” he added.
Christmas decorations at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka on Dec. 20. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)
Sumon Chowdhury, 30, is a Hindu and a cosmetic retailer in the Farmgate area of central Dhaka, to whom Christmas is a time for booming business as well as festivities.
He works at Chowdhury Varieties Store which is located near the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Tejgaon, a Christian stronghold in central Dhaka.
“My father is the owner of the shop but I also help him time to time. Over the past years, I realized so many Christians live in the area although I have some Christian friends as well,” Chowdhury told ucanews.com.
“Before Christmas they come to our shop and we have good sales. So, before Christmas to stock up various products including Christmas trees, decorative materials, gifts and toiletries for them,” he said.
To Chowdhury the Christmas period has a similar appeal to that of the Hindu Puja festivals.
“Christmas is a universal festival, although in Bangladesh it is perhaps felt a bit less because Christians are minority,” he said.
“Personally, I really like Christmas festivities including prayer services and carols, which are very similar to our religious rituals and practices.”
Tanmoy Barua, 26, a Buddhist student from the Bandarban Hill district said Bangladesh is land of interreligious harmony, and Christmas is a major festival, which promotes harmony and tolerance.
“During Christmas I go back to my town where I have Christian friends. As I invite them during Buddhist Full Moon festival, they also invite my family and me during Christmas,” Barua told ucanews.com. “It shows how religious feasts bring us close to each other and promote harmony,” he said.
“It does not matter what faith we adhere to but it does matter that we care for and respect each other and their religions.”
In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Christians account for less than half percent of a population of 160 million. About 90 percent Bangladeshis are Sunni Muslims, nine percent Hindus and the rest belongs to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.
Of an estimated 600,000 Christians, Catholics make the majority with 375,000 members spread in eight Catholic dioceses across the country. Half of the Christians are from majority Bengali groups and the rest hail from various ethnic indigenous groups.
Christmas is the most popular and well-known Christian feast in Bangladesh, largely because it is also the only Christian festival that enjoys a public holiday.