Tuesday, Aug 09, 2022

For First Time Ever, No Christmas Mass at Shimla's Oldest Church

Morning Prayer at Shimla's Christ Church will be observing Covid protocols while most other events have either been dropped or scaled-down.

Christ Church in Shimla Shutterstock.com

For the first time in history, Shimla’s Christ Church —the second oldest landmark Church in North India—will not have Christmas night services.

The Covid pandemic has cast its shadow on  Christmas celebrations in Shimla, depriving the British-era hill town of midnight sounds of bells and night prayers at church.

“Because there is a night curfew in place and also some restrictions on collective mass celebrations due to Covid-19, the Church will not conduct the service”, said Bazel Dean, a regular visitor at the Church.

Dean, who also plays the 120-year-old giant pipe-organ, one of the oldest musical instruments at the Church, says a symbolic prayer service will be held on December 25 at 11 am.

The management of the Church has taken due precautions to maintain social distancing and follow other Covid-19 protocols during the Morning Prayer. Most other events have either been dropped or scaled-down.

“We are going to pray for the entire world, and also for the early end of Covid-19 and the health safety of every single individual to God”, said Dean.

The Christ Church, which stands as part of Shimla’s rich heritage next to the sprawling Ridge, an iconic place in the town, has already been spruced up. But, because of the night curfew the celebrations can’t be held. The management of the Church has already informed the local authorities about their decision.

Just a day before, the state cabinet had taken a decision not to lift the night curfew from four hotspot districts— Shimla, Mandi, Kullu and Kangra— although the timing of the curfew has been revised. Instead of 9 pm to 6 am the curfew will be enforced from 10 pm to 6 am.

As per state government guidelines, gathering up to only 50 persons is allowed at one place that too with the permission of the sub-divisional magistrates.

The Christian community in the town is obviously disheartened at the cancellation of the Midnight Mass as it is happening for the first time in the lifetime of many old timers in the town. However, the community believes the risks related to covid require serious attention.

“I, as a child do recall pealing of the bells at the Church and the finest white-Christmas in the town. (But) It’s a new normal and we have to reconcile to the conditions to stay safe and protect others too”, says Balbir Thakur, a retired IPS officer and an old native of Shimla.

In view of an expected increase in the footfall during weekend and New Year eve, the cabinet’s decision to change the night curfew timing to 10 pm onwards has brought some cheer.

“We are grateful to Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur who gave us a very patient hearing and took a decision to keep the markets open on Sundays. This, in addition to reviewing the decision of easing night curfew norms. This is much more than we ever expected as Uttarakhand has already imposed a ban on all night celebrations in the hotels, bars, nights and restaurants. Now at least the restaurants can wrap-up by 10 pm”, says Sanjay Sood, President of Shimla Hotels and Restaurants Association.

He has made an appeal to all members of the association to ensure that Covid-19 norms are strictly followed by the tourists lodged in the hotels or coming to restaurants or bars.

Ashwani Bamba, president Dharamshala Hoteliers Association says “the tourists were lost due confusion about night curfew. But, after the cabinet’s decision, we expect the booking to shoot up to 60 percent in the next few days. Even today, my phone has not stopped ringing with queries about Christmas and New Year eve functions”.

The hotel associations have decided that they will not host any mid-night celebration functions due to curfew and other Covid-19 protocols. Even the leading Shimla hotels and luxury chain hotels have cancelled the New Year celebrations, food fests, and dance and DJ parties. 

“We will serve them a normal dinner. Only those staying in the hotels will be permitted to gather for a while observing social distancing. I feel apart from some hooliganism or noise on the Mall Road, Ridge or markets of Shimla, the year will end in a sober and disciplined way”, feels Vivek Sood, a hotelier.

Superintendent of police (Shimla), Mohit Chawla, said he had already held a meeting and planned necessary deployments to deal with New Year revellers, especially those not following the protocols.