New Delhi: Christmas was celebrated across the country on Saturday, but the festivities were low-key for the second year in a row due to Covid, with churches and other events witnessing lower footfalls, people avoiding large get-togethers and the administration in some areas imposing certain curbs.
The festive spirit started with special midnight masses held in churches with adherence to COVID-19 norms, pealing of church bells and singing of carols.
In Nagaland, where 14 people were killed in the firing by security forces and violence in Mon district, devotees prayed for peace for their families.
Christian organisations in Goa had asked people to strictly follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, like wearing of masks, sanitisation and maintaining safe distance during the masses and while visiting the churches.
Social distancing was mandated during the masses and to accommodate all the parishioners, screens were installed outside the churches and chapels where the masses were aired in the state.
Volunteers were enrolled to ensure that everyone follows the Standard Operating Procedures.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted people on the occasion.
“Christmas greetings to everyone! We recall the life and noble teachings of Jesus Christ, which placed topmost emphasis on service, kindness and humility. May everyone be healthy and prosperous. May there be harmony all around,” Modi tweeted.
In Kerala, devotees said unlike previous year’s Christmas, there were no restrictions in place for this year’s celebrations. However, people maintained vigil by wearing masks, using sanitiser and keeping distance in view of spread of Omicron variant of coronavirus.
While Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis led the midnight mass at the St Mary’s Cathedral of Syro Malankara Catholic Church in the state capital, Cardinal Mar George Alanchery of Syro Malabar Catholic Church conducted the service in Kochi.
Traditional fervour and piety marked Christmas celebrations rejoicing the birth of Jesus Christ in Tamil Nadu with a special prayer on the lips of many devotees wishing an early end to the pandemic and good times ahead for the people.
Chennai’s landmark churches including the Santhome Church or Santhome Basilica raised on the mortal remains of one of the 12 Apostles of Christ, held special Holy Mass in English and Tamil, Annai Velankanni or Lady of Health Church and the St Thomas Mount National Shrine, which also held special mass on the occasion, received the devout with giant cribs.
“I am happy that I was able to visit church this time due to the State government relaxing the lockdown restrictions. More than anything else, we prayed for the health of the people, quick recovery from Coronavirus and prayed that the pandemic would end soon,” said Zakarias Joseph, who visited the Annai Velankanni Church.
The Christian community in the national capital celebrated with caution as fewer people reached churches.
“Even though there is no such restriction on visitors, there was confusion regarding the DDMA order. So, not many people have come out this year. People seem a bit anxious due to the entire situation. We haven’t seen much footfall,” said Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi.
Christmas was celebrated with religious fervour in Kashmir as devotees held special prayers for the good health and prosperity of the people in the valley.
The largest gathering in Kashmir was held at the Holy Family Catholic Church on Maulana Azad Road in the heart of Srinagar city, where the members of the Christian community, including women and children, assembled to celebrate the occasion and held special prayers.
Meanwhile, a senior Kolkata police officer said over 80 people were arrested from different parts of the city on Christmas Eve for various unlawful activities.
Another 191 revellers were taken into custody for not wearing mask in the midst of huge crowds, he said.
India has seen a rise in Omicron cases over the past few days and the Central government has advised people to exercise caution.
Multi-disciplinary central teams have been deployed in 10 states which are reporting either an increasing number of cases of Omicron and or other variant of coronavirus, according to a Union Health Ministry office memorandum.
As per the document, these 10 states are Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Mizoram, Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Punjab.
The coronavirus pandemic had marred the Christmas celebrations last year as well.