Nepal: Christmas and Christianity

Dr. K. B. Rokaya, Nepal

Member, National Human Rights Commission of Nepal(NHRC)

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and is celebrated by Christians (as well as others) worldwide on 25 December.  There is no mention of Christmas in the Bible and Jesus never instructed his disciples to celebrate his birthday. The Bible instructs the followers of Jesus to celebrate his death which is celebrated as Good Friday and his resurrection as Easter Sunday.

Historians tell us that the tradition of celebrating 25 December as Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, started around 350 AD by Roman Emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity and declared Christianity as the state religion of Roman Empire around 350 AD. Before he became a Christian, Constantine was devotee of the Sun god and Christmas was the celebration of the birth of the Sun god.  After   his conversion to Christianity he could no more worship sun and celebrate Christmas as the birthday of sun god.  He announced that Christmas be celebrated as the birth of Jesus. This is how the tradition of celebrating 25 December as the birthday of Jesus began.

In Nepal, Christians do not celebrate Christmas in a big way like in the West. On Christmas day, there is special program in all Churches with singing Christmas songs, praying, sermon from the Bible on the theme of Christmas, exchanging gifts and greetings, and partaking in love feast. In recent years, the non-Christian business community and youths in Nepal are celebrating Christmas in Western style more than Christians themselves.  The presence and glamour of Christmas is being felt more after declaring Nepal as secular state in 2006 and making Christmas as public holiday by the government of Nepal since 2008.  Christians in Nepal fear that Christmas may become too much commercialized like in the West and it may lose its true meaning and significance.

Situation of Christianity in Nepal:

It was recorded that in 1978 there were 800 Christians in Nepal. During Panchayat time, it was not easy for people to embrace Christianity openly as it was illegal (and it still is) to change one’s religion. Many Christians faced harassment, discrimination and persecution by family and society and many were put in prison.

After the political change in 1990, there was increased freedom of religion in practice (though the legal provision remained unchanged), Christians who were in jail for their faith were released en masse and the population of Christians started increasing. It was estimated that by the year 2000, the number of Christians in Nepal crossed 800,000.  The growth rate of Christians in Nepal has been rising sharply after Nepal became a republic and a secular state. There are unverified reports that in the recently conducted population census, the number of Christians is between 1.5 and 2 million which is more than 5% of the total population.

At present there is full religious freedom in Nepal and Christians like other minority religious groups are freely practicing and propagating their faith freely and openly. But there still remain some problems like conversion from one religion to another being illegal, no clear and proper legal provision to register Churches, and the acute problem of the burial ground being faced by Christians and other religious minorities.

In the past, Christians in Nepal were  focusing on preaching and Church planting and other spiritual activities with no interest in and concern for society and the country.  This situation has been greatly changed by the National Council of Churches of Nepal (NCCN) which was founded in 1999. NCCN carried out nationwide campaign challenging Church leaders and Christians to become involved in the task of nation building by coming into the mainstream of national life.

In 2010, a new Christian forum   under the name of United Christian Alliance of Nepal (UCAN) was formed as the common official voice of all the Christians in Nepal.  More recently Christian Volunteers Forum (CVF) has been formed in an effort to unite and organize all Christian youths in Nepal with the objective of   contributing   to create a new identity of Christians in Nepal and mobilizing Christian youths for national development.

Religious Harmony in Nepal:

Nepal has not seen the kind of religious conflicts experienced by many other nations in the world. Many religions have coexisted in Nepal peacefully. Although Christians and Muslims have faced discrimination, harassment and persecution from time to time, there has not been any major religious conflicts and confrontations in Nepal.  The activities, behavior and conduct of Christians were also responsible for the harassment and persecution they faced from families and society. 

NCCN played important role to bring leaders from various religious groups at one place to work together on issues of common interest and concerns which resulted in the formation of the Inter-Religious Peace Committee in 2004 which was later renamed Inter-Religious Council of Nepal (IRCN) and officially registered with the government of Nepal. IRCN played important role in conflict resolution and peace building and has been instrumental in creating greater understanding, cooperation and harmony among various religious communities in Nepal. IRCN has been successful in creating a space for religious communities in society and has been recognized by the government, civil society, intellectual community, media and the international community.

Appropriate Religious Policy in Nepal:

The interim constitution of Nepal 2007 has declared Nepal as a secular state. But the concept of secularism has not yet been implemented in practice as the society and country continue to operate in the traditional manner with the President replacing the King. There has not been much debate and discussion about what secularism meant and what were its implications.

In a republic and secular Nepal, the state should keep itself separate from religion and should not interfere in religious matters. Religion should be considered purely as the right of an individual and state should treat all religions equally and impartially. The new constitution should guarantee full religious freedom which should include the freedom to believe, follow and practice the religion of one’s choice; to change from one religion to another; and freedom not to have any religion.  The responsibility to organize, run, manage and maintain places of worship and religious institutions should be left to the concerned religious community. The government of a secular state should not make any provision for religious holidays of any religion. Instead fixed number of days should be given as religious or festival leave and a person can take leave to celebrate his/her religious festivals without affecting the normal life of the country. No public property of state treasury should be allowed to be used by any particular religious group as these belong to all citizens including those with no religion. The Nepal army and other security organs and public institutions need to be secularized also in order to fully respect and implement the spirit of secularism.

Christians converting other people in Nepal by giving money?

This is not true. No one can be converted to Christianity by giving money or providing any other material or non-material benefits.  But there are certainly exceptions to this. Some people might have embraced Christianity for certain personal gains or some Christians might have offered certain incentives to convert others to Christianity.  Definitely, as in all religions, there are always certain people who do business in the name of religion and who misuse religion for political or material gains. It is the responsibility of the state, media, intellectuals and all enlightened and conscious citizens to discourage misuse of religion for political, material or other gains.  Media should not go after rumors, but should do investigative journalism and verify facts before publishing them.

The author is the General Secretary of National Council of Churches of Nepal(NCCN), Executive Committee member of United Christian Alliance of Nepal(UCAN), Founding Vice-President of Inter-Religious Council of Nepal(IRCN), President of Nepal Intellectuals Forum  and Member of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal(NHRC).

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Comments

  • Posted on - 2013-10-25    by     kusum Rayamajhi
  • when Christianism start in Nepal?
  • Posted on - 2012-12-25    by     Rajin Maharjan
  • I want to comment on "Religious Harmony" because I cannot forget September 2007 violent incidents from Kapilvastu, Rupandehi and Dang districts from 16-21. I myself was traveling with International Nepal Fellowship team. We had to stop in Butwal and waited for a week. However even after a week situation was tense. Even now victims are appealing for justice from the state. When such incidents remains unsolved how can we say that there is religious freedom. If we hide obviously the state and the political leaders won't be able to focus on their responsibilities.
  • Posted on - 2012-02-14    by     Danial khaling
  • I am not very happy that Nepali Christians are following the old Indian pattern of Christian and rokaya seem t be corrupt and temptation of money I send so much money to you and you see t swallowing everythingnthe name of Jesus
  • Posted on - 2012-01-16    by     Nepali
  • Nepal can only prosper as a secular society accomodating all religions and faiths. It is important that freedom of expression, speech and faith be enshrined in the constitution. If India has made a great progressive leap, It is beacuse of our democracy and constitution which guarantees these rights.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-05    by     Umesh
  • Hindu is not even a religion. It is a an extreme racist practice brought to Nepal by the immigrant bahun chhetri and madhesis. Like in Russia recently, hindusim should be banned in Nepal too.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-05    by     Umesh
  • Question: What did Big-Time Bahun do after making photocopies? Answer: He compared them with the original for spelling mistakes.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-03    by     Capt.Nepali
  • I am sure Dr. Rokaya is aware that majority of the Hindus have no problem with other religions in Nepal. Unlike in India, Muslims and Hindus have lived together for a long time. Hindus also have no problems with people that want to convert to other religions for whatever the reasons may be. The problem arises when Hindus are taunted and mocked and our space are invaded. There are fundamental differences between Christianity and Hinduism. One difference is Hindus mind our own business and let other do what they must. But the Christians have the tendencies to convert others and save their souls. The converts, with their souls now saved, invade our sacred places like the Pashupatinath with their deads. This creates a serious problem; Problem that can be solved by each group having mutual respect and minding their own business. These days, bashing Hinduism have become a fashion. The money pouring in from donor countries have fueled and motivated people to harass the Hindus. Let me point out that in Nepal , 85% of the people are Hindus and we are a silent majority. But please do not think that we will remain silent. If you keep on pushing us you will someday feel the wrath. Rest assuredÖ.Om Shanti , Om Shanti.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-03    by     adam
  • The first three comments, all obviously posted by the same person, deserve some small reply. Dear Captain Nepali Rob, Thank you for taking the time to unleash your thoughts about Christianity. Your wrote far too much for me to be able to reply to it all, so let me start with the some easy parts from the end of your third post. You mention that someone in Darjeeling told you something about Christianity. I hate to tell you this, but I am afraid you have been lied to. A very important thing the Bible says is that you should not trust anyone telling you something unless you can find it in the Bible, as lots of people simply do know what they are talking about. I have just looked through the Bible and have been unable to find anything saying that if you become a Christian you are promised 'every sickness will be cured', you are promised eternal life and joy yes, but complete health? no, I am afraid not. If you look in the Bible you will see lots of sick people. If you happen to go back to Darjeeling, please let your friend know. I don't even want to mention your hospital comment, but will proceed to your last point about global terrorism. I am afraid you confusion here might come from the fact you are thinking about a different religion and not Christianity. Here is some quotes from the Bible regarding violence, also let me remind you that if someone does not follow what the Bible says, they are most likely not a Christian, not matter what they tell you. "do not imitate what is evil but what is good" "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." "But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;" "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" My friend, it sounds indeed like you are not talking about Christianity. If you want to take a look, here is the place I got the quotes: http://bible.cc/matthew/5-44.htm I hope this has been helpful. Blessings, Adam.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-03    by     bhimrajgurung
  • Religion is a personal affair.Discrimination amongst followers of a particular religion developes misunderstanding and hatred amongst eachother.Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar,founder father of Indian Constitution realised that his community was victimised, he took a bold decision and he along with his community (in lakhs!)adopted Budhism.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-02    by     Rob Van
  • I have heard of the Brave Gurkhas who are true to themselves and others but what I am seeing today is that you are loosing all your name and fame for nothing but money. I am a Christian and I have seen the reality in it.The Christians are trying to spoil your society by keeping you all in dark and you are happy with what you get when you convert. You all seem to be cowards rather than valiant. Just watch the westerners in your country,how much they love your cultures. Do you know why? Because they do not have any in their countries. They know about sex only and that is their culture no matter who your partner is, who is your father you don't know. Do you think is RELIGION? My humble request to Brave Gukhas is Preserve your Cultures and Religion. If you have any bad thing in your cultures try to correct it but do not leave and embrace other's. Be what you are, you will regret later on. I want to be A HINDU and read GITA and I am trying to go to India for that.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-02    by     Nepali Dai
  • Whoever may be the writer, the christians convert the poor people by giving them money. They hate other religions and are ignorant too. They are taking the advantage of the present situation of Nepal and its poverty. But it's all nonsense. It's no better than a political ideology. Somebody in Darjeeling told me that if anybody converts to chritians then every sickness will be cured. But if you see the christian countries, there are more illness, bigger hospitals and more doctors and more dying. Is this true? Christiaity makes a society cultureless. A very few people go to the church in Western countries. This clearly shows that their motive not religion but conversion. There are more thugs in christianity. And overall 90% of the terrorism in the world is caused due to christians. If christians stop conversion, 90%of terrorism will stop.
  • Posted on - 2012-01-02    by     siva prasad
  • All GLORY TO LORD JESUS CHRIST> I am Hindu. but I accept Jesus christ as my saviur. I am very happy that i came to know in 19 78 800 christians to 8 lacks now
  • Posted on - 2012-01-02    by     Rahul
  • Doesn't the author know that Chrismas is not "Birthday of Jesus Christ". Even a little internet search would tell the facts... The date is celebrated but it is not Christ's birthday...