December 25 is a holiday for Christmas in Bangladesh, although only 0.3% of the population, about 170 million people, are Christians! (More than 85% of people in Bangladesh are Muslim).
Christmas is known as ‘Borodin’ (or ‘Bara din’) meaning ‘the big day’ in Bengali. Happy / Merry Christmas in Bengali is shubho [or shuvo]bôṛodin (শুভ বড়দিন). Happy / Merry Christmas in many more languages.
In large cities, shops and hotels will have “western” style holiday decorations, such as artificial snow and artificial Christmas trees with lots of lights. Having a Christmas tree in your home is also becoming more popular, especially among Christians. More people are also exchanging Christmas cards.
Christians who live in towns and large cities often try to go to their villages to spend Christmas with their families.
Catholic Christians will go to a midnight mass service. Religious services on Christmas morning are also popular with Christians. One way to decorate buildings for different festive occasions in Bangladesh is ‘Nishan’ (meaning small flag). These are strings made of hundreds of small pink paper triangles.
Traditionally in Bengali churches, men on one side of the church and women sit on the other. The popular Christmas songs include ‘Aaj Shuvo Borodin bhai, aaj Shuvo Borodin’ which means ‘Today is Happy Borodin, friend / brother, today is Happy Borodin’.
Another type of traditional song of Bangladesh that is also sung at Christmas, in churches and homes, is “kirtan”. In Bengali Christian culture, kirtan is performed with a singer who directs the song and everyone else follows them. The songs start slowly but they get faster and faster! The song is made with people in a circle: the leader is in the middle. Then, when it starts, you walk slowly around the circle, but in the end you are dancing / running! Leaders also sometimes dance in and out of the circle as it gets faster. Kirtans are also made in the villages from house to house, singing very exciting Christmas carols!
After religious services, especially in rural areas, it is traditional for all to dine together in the church. This is called ‘Preeti-bhoj’ or ‘Prem-bhoj’ which means ‘love party’. The food often includes dishes such as chicken and vegetable curry served with rice and vegetables.
Other special Christmas foods are ‘pitha’ (sweet rice cakes made from rice flour, milk, coconut and molasses) and ‘payesh’ (rice pudding). Different areas have their own recipes for pitha versions.