KARACHI - Amid growing economic woes and an ever-increasing inflation, poor Christians in Pakistan are forced to go for somber celebrations of this year's Christmas.
My children still hope that they would see ornaments and lights at their home with new clothes and toys, Bashir Masih, a sanitary worker in Karachi metropolitan government, told OnIslam.net.
They also expect a Christmas village and tree at our home, said Bashir, who earns Rs 9000 ($95) per month.
But I know their hopes would not be materialized as I am not in a position to buy that stuff for them.
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One does not have to think hard to understand why I and many others are compelled to celebrate Christmas in a simple manner. Not because we want to, but because we cannot.
The federal and provincial governments have announced the release of salaries of Christian employees before Christmas to help them celebrate their festival.
The move, however, does not work for Bashir and other poor Christians.
Half of the salary goes to the shopkeeper who gives us ration on credit. I have to manage the monthly expenses within the remaining half, Bashir said.
If I buy new clothes and toys for my children, how would I manage the whole month.
Christians celebrate Christmas Day on December 25.
Popular Christmas themes include the promotion of goodwill, giving, compassion, and quality family time.
Many Christians complain that the back-breaking inflation in Pakistan has eclipsed the traditional joy and festivity of Christmas.
I remember that things were not as bad till few years ago as they are, Khurram David, a school teacher at a local convent school, told OnIslam.net.
Our salaries were the same, even lesser, however we could manage some additional stuff besides our monthly expenditures.
But now, it has gone beyond our capacity because of soaring prices, he said.
Khurram sees a decline in Christmas parties too this year.
This year you do not see the traditional lackluster and joy, which are the trademarks of Xmas, just because people's buying power has really gone down, he said.
A continuous depreciation of the Pakistani Rupee against dollar has increased the prices of several essential commodities by 200 to 400 per cent during last few years.
According to finance ministry estimates, Pakistan has incurred 70 to 90 billion dollars losses during the last decade of the so-called war on terror, which has brought the national economy to its lowest ebb.
As per World Bank figures, 34 percent Pakistanis live below poverty line, whereas the government official quote this figure as 18 to 20 percent.
We have only one choice. Either to manage monthly expenses, or buy new clothes and toys (for children) on Xmas, Shad Masih, male nurse by profession, told OnIslam.net.
So, I would go for (choice of) monthly expenses. As far as Xmas is concerned, it will come and pass like every year. So what if I cannot buy new clothes and toys for my kids, he said.
Being the largest minority group, Christians make up 3 percent of total 190 million population of Pakistan.
A majority of Christians belong to the low-income bracket and settled in Punjab, the country's largest province, and the southern port city of Karachi.
They are mainly involved in sanitary work, teaching, and nursing professions.
Seeking to help Christians celebrate their festival, several Muslim groups have offered gifts to bring Christmas joy to them.
Last year, we had distributed over ration among 200 poor Christian families as Christmas gift from Jammat-e-Islami, whereas this year, we plan to increase the number of families to 500, Younas Sohan Advocate, a Christian, and head of minority wing of Jammat-e-Islami told OnIslam.net.
The JI Karachi Chief, Mohammad Hussein Mehanti visited various local churches and greeted the priests on the occasion of Christmas.
Hussein said the main Christmas cake-cutting ceremony will be held at the central office of the party in Karachi, which will be attended by Muslims and Christian leaders.
Ration package for poor (Christian) families is a gesture of love and friendship showing that we (Muslims) share their happiness on this occasion, he said.
We want to make them feel that we are with them.
Besides JI, the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) of Jammat-ud-Dawa'h (JuD) too is going to distribute food and clothes among poor Christians enabling them to celebrate Christmas.
FIF spokesman Nadeem Yayha said thousands of ration bags and clothes would be distributed among poor Christian families in all over the country before Christmas.
This has become a permanent feature of FIF activities, he said.
Not only Christians, but we do not forget poor Hindu families on the occasion of their religious festivals of Holi and Dashehra.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net