Christmas Carols: The Nepali way

Christmas carols are more than Jingle Bells that most of us are familiar with. In Nepal, Christmas hymns sung during carolling are both in English and Nepali. The Christians of Nepal love to sing Nepali songs and dance to it while reaching out to the people.

The Christian community all over the world celebrate December 25 as the Christmas Day. The celebration starts with commemoration of the Christ’s arrival — who as the scripture says was born for the people and their salvation. And it is done through carol singing. Numerous people in a group sing songs about His birth and why Christ was born as a part of Christmas carols.

The diversity

As per the Bible, Christ was born in a shed in Bethlehem and the angels sang to the shepherds resting near the shed, about this good news. This tradition of singing the news to others continue in carol singing. Nepal is no exception where many church here go for carol singing days before December 25.

“We have 10 zones and we sing carols in each zone. Families of a particular zone and carol goers gather at one place. We sing to tell everyone that our Saviour is coming,” informs Father Robin Rai of a Roman Catholic church in Dhobighat — The Assumption Church.

Nepali songs like Gloria, Sundar Raat Pabitra Raat, Euta Tara and some English hymns such as Joy To The World, Long Time Ago In Bethlehem, O Come All Ye Faithful are catered which are accompanied by musical instruments like harmonium and guitar.

With two weeks of practice, carolling usually embarks on December 10 in The Assumption Church family. As per Augustine Lepcha from the same church, who is also a musician and a composer of Christmas hymns, “Christmas carols are sung before Christmas and also after Christmas to.”

The rituals of carol singing also include praying and Bible reading. There is dance performance as well.

On the other hand, Koinonia Patan Church, a Portestant church, resonates with Ghintang Tang Tang Ghintang, Herana Aakashma, Lagdacha Malai, Bhedi Goth during carolling. You can hear these numbers in other Protestant church like Ananta Shalam Church in Saatdobato and Living Baptist Church in Nakhipot too.

As per Pastor Mangal Man Maharjan of Koinonia Patan Church, their carol singing started on December 7 this time. And they have been “singing about Jesus’ birth while exchanging good wishes”. People in groups visit to Christian households for carolling which is done till Christmas or a few days before. And the households in return offer the singers with fruits or tea or money.

Singing similar songs, people like Amos Tamang of Ananta Shalom Church go for carolling to the nearby houses during the evening while they sing carols in places like Godavari in the afternoon.

Nepali hymns

“We are Nepali and we aim to to introduce Christ to Nepali people in Nepali style,” shares Rai. And this is why they prefer Nepali hymns more in carolling though they sing “little bit of English hymns” as well.

Initially, there were English hymns only.”They were later translated in Nepali like Jaun Chheuma Ramaudei (O Come All Ye Faithful ). But it was much later that we started to create our own Nepal hymns which include Christmas songs,” says Rai.

Even the Roman Catholic Church with a history of about 50 years in Nepal used to sing “Nepali hymns including Christmas hymns composed in Darjeeling” in the initial days as per Lepcha.

“We still sing those songs but we have started to create our own Nepali hymns including Christmas carols,” Lepcha adds. Along with him, artistes like Purna Nepali have composed those hymns.

Singing translated Nepali carols also prevail in Protestant church and Maharjan remarks, “What is fun than to sing our own Nepali songs? After all we are spreading the news to Nepali people — they understand better when sung in Nepali.” Their composers include Dibya Khaling, Pastor Loknath Manen and Kiran Pradhan to name a few.

Lyrics and composition

There are different kinds of Christmas songs. The devotional songs in both slow and peppy pattern are about “Christ was born…where he was born…and why was he born”. In addition, Maharjan also points out, “Christmas songs are also about your feeling and experience or stories related to Jesus’ coming.”

However, Christmas should not be about “baby Jesus” as per Manen who doesn’t celebrate Christmas anymore. “Our Christmas celebration is more focused on baby Jesus as well as things like Santa Clause and some trees that are not mentioned in the Bible. Instead, Christmas is all about Christ the King, who was born to wash away our sins and it is an important fact.” Hence, a carol should have a deeper meaning and should depict the significance of Christ’s arrival.

Sharing about the composition of Nepali carols, he further informs, “They are seasonal songs. Some Nepali hymns have Western musical arrangement but nowadays folk based songs are getting popular. When it comes to dance and fun, Nepali songs are the best.”

Also, the kind of compositions depend on the lyrics. There are old songs while new songs are up and adding to the list. Some artistes like Lepcha and Jyoti Sunuwar have even come up with their Christmas albums. As per Tamang who is a music arranger by profession, “We make our own songs as well as learn new songs composed by other church and sing them too.”

source: Himalayan Times, 20 DEC 2013

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