New Delhi: The Christmas season got off to a vigorous start in the Delhi NCR with the Delhi Achik Association holding a pre-Christmas – also called Advent Christmas – celebration at Meghalaya House recently. The event attracted an overwhelming response from members of the Garo or Achik community staying in the region with the spacious lawn filled to capacity with nearly 300 people.
The crowd that had turned up in its best, intently listened to impassioned addresses in Garo dialect by National People’s Party (NPP) MLA from South Garo Hills, Rakkam A Sangma and chaplain of the Delhi Achik Christian Fellowship, Ferdinand Arengh who touched upon a variety of issues from the challenge of climate change to the need for becoming responsible citizens.
Speaking with EastMojo, Sangma said, “Mahatma Gandhi once said that though he liked Christ, the character of the Christians didn’t convince him. Therefore, in this generation, I would like to request my Christian friends in all communities to inspire others with our good character and beauty of Christ.”
The speeches were followed by soulful carol singing as the crowd held up hundreds of lit candles during the service. The audience was then invited to collect their Christmas present from Santa Claus who pulled out colourfully wrapped gift boxes from cardboard boxes kept near the podium. However, once the boxes emptied out, the Garo Santa tried to humour those who hadn’t received any presents with candies and chocolates.
“The pre-Christmas celebration is one which helps bring all Achik or Garo people living in the Delhi NCR together in one place. As we participate in the fellowship and celebration, we have carol singing and community feasting too. For this celebration each one of us contributes according to their individual capacity,” informed officer, Meghalaya Tourism and chief advisor Delhi Achik Association, Ava Shereen S Sangma.
Shereen added that the organisers always made it a point to also invite people hailing from other parts of the country to the celebration to introduce them to the very vibrant rhythm of the state. And this helped in promoting Meghalaya as a tourist destination.
Developing stronger bonds
A Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, the Achiks or Garos are among the few surviving matrilineal societies in the world. They are found in the Indian states of Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and Nagaland and areas of Bangladesh bordering India. Although the community was introduced to Christianity in the 19th century, most conversions to Christianity happened only after the 1950s. However, several traces of the traditional Songsarek faith that is based on animist practices have survived among Garo Christians. In the last decade, the first serious attempt was also made to safeguard the traditional religion in 500 villages spread across Garo Hills.
Getting a community that is widely dispersed in a region as humongous as the Delhi NCR to assemble in one place is not an easy task. General secretary of the association, Chesrang Sangma stated that word of mouth and social media messaging were extensively used in this regard.
“When we call members of the Achik community from the Delhi NCR, we pass on messages through channels such as our friends, Facebook and Instagram to gather everyone here in Meghalaya House so that we can meet each other. This way we also get to meet people that we don’t otherwise get to meet easily. We get to know each other better and that helps to develop a stronger sense of bonding in Delhi.”
Local delicacies prepared by members of the community such as pork with dried sorrel leaves and rice powder, pork with pumpkin, gizzard cooked in green herbs and soda and chicken and fish curries were served for dinner. Meanwhile, young members among the revelers danced in a circle to the sound of loud drumbeats singing songkristans or Christmas songs.