On Tuesday, Deepak Rai, his wife, Sita, their young daughter Blessa and some 400 others will gather for a Christmas feast at West End Mennonite Fellowship.
As they savor the meal and the fellowship around the table, they also may pause to remember something else this Christmas, Rai’s third since moving to the U.S. in 2010: During most recent yuletide seasons, the traditional Bhutanese/Nepali feast would not have been possible.
“Here, we have a freedom (to celebrate Christmas) that we never had before,” Rai says at Bhutanese Nepali Church of Lancaster, which meets at West End Mennonite Fellowship.
Rai, the worship leader at his church, who sings and plays guitar, doesn’t need to be reminded of the real meaning of Christmas.
“Here, we can truly celebrate Christmas,” Rai says, adding that the celebration would not have happened during his years growing up in the Asian nation of Bhutan and in a refugee camp in Nepal.
In the Hindu nation of Nepal, the Christmas celebration in the camp had to be low-key, and “pretty much restricted.”
“We could have Christmas carols, but only in a small group,” says the 29-year-old Rai, who lives on Pine Street in Lancaster.
“So here, we are thankful.”
Rai says Christmas 2012 means he “feels more and more freedom” to do things such as going Christmas caroling around the church’s city neighborhood, which he and some friends have done, and to put up Christmas lights at his home.
Rai was 5 years old when his family left his native Bhutan, a Buddhist nation, and moved to the Nepali refugee camp.
He came to the U.S. in October 2010, “on Columbus Day,” he says proudly.
In Bhutan, Rai recalls, Christians were prohibited from engaging in public celebrations of Christmas, and there were “lots of restrictions” on how large any celebration could be.
The “Christmas celebration among the Nepali population in Lancaster has become like a tradition, where all Nepali people can gather together once a year and see each other,” says Shankar Rai, pastor of Bhutanese Nepali Church of Lancaster.
Throughout the year, his people “work hard and do not have time to see each other, and there are no platforms where we can gather,” he says.
Tuesday’s Christmas Day celebration will include cultural song and dance, plus a brief message from the pastor.
Then comes traditional foods such datshi, which is made of milk mixed with ema, or chili. It is the national food of Bhutan and is “very popular among the Bhutanese Nepali,” the pastor adds.
“In this celebration, we not only have Christians but we have all religious groups coming together … and celebrating the birth of Christ,” he says, adding that the church has celebrated Christmas since 2009.
In the past, church services where Jesus’ name could be mentioned were limited, as in China and other nations, to small fellowships that met in basements and the like, Deepak Rai says.
Many Bhutanese people fled to Nepal in the early 1990s because of persecution in tiny Bhutan, squeezed between India and China.
Close to 1,000 Bhutanese now call Lancaster home, according to various estimates.
Deepak Rai, as well as leading worship in his church, works as a laboratory technician for Fenner Precision in Manheim, and also is majoring in chemistry at Harrisburg Area Community College.
So, like the others, he looks forward to taking a break and celebrating on Christmas Day.
Courtesy : Landcaster