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After celebrating Christmas and New Year behind closed doors in 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19, Mizoram, a hilly state predominantly inhabited by the Christians, this time is preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus and New Year in churches, an official said on Thursday.

Churches and other places of worship in COVID-19 free towns and villages outside the Aizawl Municipal Corporation (AMC) area have been re-opened since August 22, while the government also allowed the re-opening of churches in COVID-19 affected areas, including the state capital Aizawl, which was worst affected, from October 2.

Preparations are gaining full momentum in all parts of the state with churches making arrangements and chalking out the programme for the holy celebration, a church leader said.

He said that this year all churches across the state are expected to hold worship services in their respective local churches, unlike last year, when Christmas and New Year were celebrated behind closed doors due to the spread of COVID-19.

However, the celebrations will be in a low-key manner in the state capital and other district headquarters as compared to the past because congregational singing and community feast, which form an integral part of the celebrations, are restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

The existing COVID-19 guidelines, which will remain in force till 15 January next year, prohibited congregational singing in public places or churches and community feasts.

However, deputy commissioners other than the Aizawl district are given the discretionary power to make separate guidelines for their respective districts depending on the COVID-19 situation of their areas.

The government has banned firecrackers, sky lanterns and other pyrotechnic materials, including toy guns, which have bullets, during the festive season.

Some deputy commissioners said that the manners in which Christmas and New Year will be celebrated in sub-towns and rural villages are kept at the prerogative of respective local churches and village level task force depending on the COVID-19 situation of their respective areas.

In Mizoram, which celebrated the centenary of the arrival of Christianity back in 1994, Christmas is a blend of religious and traditional fervour. Notwithstanding an English way of celebration, the proselytized Mizos follow their way of celebrating Christmas in tune with their historic traditions.

Singing Christmas songs and hymns by congregation and community feasts, which is an important tradition of the Mizos during festivities since the pre-Christian era, are an integral part of the celebration.

Customarily, the Christmas celebration is followed for three days starting from 24 of December known as ‘urlawk zan’ or pre-night celebration to 26 of December.

While 25 December is usually sanctified for worship during which church services, sermon and ‘zaikhawm’ (congregational singing service) are held to mark the prime celebration, 26 December is generally marked with traditional community feasts.

Sources said that most churches in rural villages and a few in the state capital and other towns will hold community feasts on Christmas this time too.

Despite the pandemic and restriction in place, the tiny state is already soaked in the yuletide spirit.

Although Christmas carols and singing Christmas songs and hymns in the streets were few, unlike in the past due to COVID-19, Christmas songs and music reverberated across households to convey the message of love and joy.

Christmas trees and wreaths adorned almost every household. Several NGOs, political parties, churches and groups have been mustering charity to reach out to the orphanages, jails, corrective homes, rehabs and hospitals with generous gifts.

Earlier on Wednesday, state governor Hari Babu Kambhampati and chief minister Zoramthanga had conveyed Christmas and New Year greetings to the people.

Mizoram will witness 150 years of Christmas being celebrated on its soil after it was first celebrated by the invading colonial British troops.

Historians recorded that the first Christmas in Mizoram soil was celebrated in 1871, not by the Mizos but by the invading colonial British troops near Tuivai river on the present Mizoram-Manipur border and the Mizo warriors attacked the soldiers during celebrations.

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