Although Pakistan is 97 percent Muslim and only 1.5 percent Christian, there are still 2.8 million Christians in Pakistan, a land with a population 200 million strong. A large Catholic community has existed in Karachi since colonial times, and there are Christians throughout the country, most of them living in poor, rural areas.
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Note: The Christmas holiday is observed by Christians only.
Pakistan’s Christians celebrate Christmas every year much as do Christians in other lands, though they also have some unique traditions. December 25th is a public holiday in Pakistan as well, though this is mostly due to its also being the birthday of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the modern Pakistani state.
Preparations for the Christmas season in Pakistan begin at the beginning of December. Many re-paint and redecorate their homes, and some people put up Christmas decorations. Many buy shoes and new clothing for their kids, something they only do once a year, and family outings to zoos, parks, and beaches are common this time of year.
During the first week of December, many churches hold White Gift services, where women don white dresses in remembrance of the Virgin Mary and receive gifts from other church members. Churches also give food and money to poor families in their local communities this time of year, and parents traditionally give presents and sweets to their married daughters as Christmas approaches as well.
In the final week before Christmas, carollers will go in groups from door to door, and money or other gifts will be often be given in exchange. Any proceeds are normally donated to charity work. Christmas plays and other performances are also held as Christmas draws nearer, and church buildings are decorated with Christmas lights and a star.
Homes are also decorated with lights and a star, and streets in Christian neighbourhoods are decorated as well. On Christmas Eve, families gather together to celebrate. They wear new clothes, girls often wear henna art on their hands, “Christmas cakes” are exchanged, and a festive dinner is enjoyed. Everyone stays up till midnight and shouts out “Merry Christmas!” at the moment Christmas Day finally arrives. Elders give out blessings at this point, everyone hugs, gifts are sometimes exchanged, some break out in dance, and kids set off fireworks in the streets.
Others, however, will be in church for a midnight vigil to witness the moment Christmas arrives. And on Christmas Day, again, church services are often attended. Choirs in song and preachers in sermons remind the congregations of the meaning of Christ’s coming into the world, and many times, people remain in church courtyards after services to eat food from food stalls and fellowship with the other congregants.
Should you visit Pakistan during the Christmas season, some activities and events you might want to attend include:
- Go to the Christmas Day procession in Lahore. There will be a large crowd and a fairly long walk from Saint Anthony’s Church to the Lahore Cathedral. The procession lasts for several hours and is celebrated with great fanfare. At the end, you can attend Christmas services in the cathedral.
- Attend any of numerous “spiritual seminars” held throughout Pakistan this time of year. As people in Pakistan seek to reflect on the meaning of the Christmas season, special seminars on Christmas-related themes are a major help in their doing so, and you can join in as well if you wish.
- Visit a Christian neighbourhood, where you can often see numerous manger scenes gathered together on a street corner. These are the “entries” in local manger decorating contests. You may also wish to stroll along and see the house decorations and lights.
In Pakistan, Christmas is sometimes called “Bara Din,” which means “the big day, because it is of great importance to the Christian population living there. And many Pakistanis who live abroad will fly home for the Christmas season. For this reason, you will be wise to book your flights early.