It was just eight months ago, on a day like this, that horror ripped through Sri Lanka in the form of eight coordinated explosions that killed over 250 people and injured many more.
Worshippers arriving at church to celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas will be reminded of that carnage, even as affected communities continue to struggle to rebuild their lives after devastating loss.
Usually a time for joy and celebration, Christmas this year will be a greatly subdued affair.
Priyantha Jayakody lost his wife Priyanthi to the terror attack on the St. Sebastian Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo. His son, Hasaru was also caught in the attack, but luckily survived with minor injuries.
Today Hasaru will be celebrating Christmas for the first time without his mother.
“People in the community feel differently about Christmas this year. Some people don’t want to celebrate at all, and then others do” Jayakody told Roar Media. He did note, however, that the church had decided to observe Christmas quietly this year, without pushing festivities on those who are not ready for it.
“None of us can hear firecrackers anymore—that is something the church has requested everyone not to do,” Jayakody said.
When we visited the St. Sebastian’s Church a week before Christmas, a modest Christmas tree stood unfinished at the centre, with children gathered around to construct a depiction of the Nativity of Jesus. But the decorations will not be used to cover up the scars of what the church endured earlier this year.
A Muted Celebration
On any other year, the St. Anthony’s Church in Kochikade would be covered in lights, a larger-than-life Christmas tree at its centre. The road in front of the Church would be lit up and decorated richly, but this year, the decor is sparse and muted.
“We cannot ignore the joy of Christmas...we have to give it to our children,” Father Jude Raj Fernando, told Roar Media. “We are making the necessary arrangements to feel that joy and share that with our community, but we are doing it in a low-scale because we have to pay respects to those who passed away.”
Praveena H. Mano sits outside a shop opposite the church, begging for money from passers-by.
“This time, not as many people are coming to the shops, so as a result, I also don’t get a lot of money,” she told Roar Media. “But this morning a family came after going to church. They bought some blue tinsel from the shop, and gave me Rs. 50 as well.”
Although the community has decided not to have an extravagant celebration this Christmas, the spirit of the holiday has not entirely been lost. After all, today marks the birth of their Lord Jesus Christ, known for his meek and gentle spirit, and grace and kindness to the poor. For this reason, the church has decided to help those in their own community, and provide for those who are marginalized.
“We are hosting a Christmas lunch for those who live on the streets, as well as for Colombo Municipal Council workers—among other events,” Father Jude said. “Many people in the community are involved in these initiatives. You can see that people are moving, and people are trying to overcome this situation and they are coming together, which is what is important.”