Nepal's demotion of Christmas

The Nepalese government is struggling with its downgrading of Christmas.

Dec 23, 2016

By Prakash Khadka
The Nepalese government is struggling with its downgrading of Christmas. Earlier this year Christmas was removed from the official list of public holidays in an effort to control the rising number of days off in the country. Even non-Christians thought the move as unnecessary and mean spirited.

Christmas was the only public holiday for Christians in Nepal. Now it remains only a day off for civil servants who are Christian.

On March 31 the government listed 52 public holidays for festivals and celebrations. Christmas was no longer one. There have been cases of the government making ad hoc decisions and re-establishing holidays just before the occasion. Who knows? Perhaps the government might re-establish Christmas on Dec. 24.

There is no doubt that government authorities are influenced by anti-Christian tendencies. We can see this in how the issue of religious freedom gets lost in the tug of war between secularists and Hindu hardliners. Vague constitutional provisions on secularism, anti-conversion bills, and the time-to-time scandals at Christian-run schools, childcare facilities and old-age homes don’t help.

It is obvious the Christian community needs to take seriously the government’s move. The cancellation shows the government has not thought deeply about how the Christmas holiday is important for both Christian and non-Christians.

Every year I have noticed that the number of Hindus who attend our parish during the Christmas season exceeds the number of Christians. Christmas carols are similar to the traditional Deusi and Bhailo songs sung during the Hindu festival of light (called Tihar in Nepal).

One of my Hindu colleagues argued that if Christians are allowed to take a holiday during Hindu festivals, Hindus should have the same right during Christian festivals.

The concern is shared by other religious leaders. Christmas is one of the main festivals of Christianity. It should be given a public holiday to ensure that all religious groups, including minorities, are respected by the state.

Of course Christmas is not only a religious festival. It is marked around the world and is an important event in the life of consumers in both developed and developing economies.

Considering all this, taking it away seems like an act of intolerance by some individuals who occupy government positions.

The past Minister for Home Affairs Shakti Bahadur Basnet said the change was to control the rising number of holidays. I have spoken with Catholic scholars and they agree that this country has too many unnecessary holidays. We have multiple New Year Days (because of different calendars) and a variety of religious, social and secular holidays.

However we should remember the Constitution guarantees equal rights to all religious groups. Is taking away a holiday just indifference towards minorities or does it violate the Constitution?  

Christians are small in number. But so are Jains and Sikhs. They have holidays for their festivals. Why should every religious and ethnic group have their own holidays and not Christians?

And why stop at Christmas? Shouldn’t we be able to celebrate Easter and Good Friday? Christmas has become a hot topic across the country but no one speaks about the solemnities of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They are not even known amongst non-Christians. This might be because they affect the economy less than Christmas.

But for the faithful, the memory of Christ’s death and resurrection should not be less important than the more worldly celebration of Christmas.  

So far frequent attempts by the Christian community to convince the government authorities have failed. A wing of the Nepalese Christian federation has threatened a peaceful nation-wide strike if Christmas is not reinstated.  

Other Christian leaders have also tried lobbying authorities through their personal contacts. The Janajagaran party, which is led by a Christian, has issued a memorandum to the prime minister. They are arguing that reinstating Christmas is an important part of supporting religious freedom.    

There is a rumor that the prime minister has made a personal commitment to return Christmas, but there is no written commitment. I hope that the present government will be sensitive and restore this holiday, which is celebrated by many people in Nepal.

The government should feel proud of being a country where multiple cultures exist respectfully and provide a proper space for all. This Christmas let everyone have chance to experience the full freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.--ucanews

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