SHILLONG, Dec 26 (IANS): Little Baiamon Sohtun and her sibling Lubrisharai were all excited, unwrapping colourful gift boxes and being pleasantly surprised. This was a day the pair had long been waiting for.
"Papa, Santa Claus has presented me with a Barbie and a kitchen set," Baiamon said as she took the Barbie doll out of a box. Lubrisharai called for mei (mother) telling her that she got a cuddly teddy bear.
It was Boxing Day and besides opening boxes full of Christmas gifts, it was also time for grand feasts in predominantly Christian Meghalaya.
Boxing Day - December 26th - is the feast day of Saint Stephen, and is also called St Stephen's Day. Boxing Day got that name because it was the tradition for employers to give a Christmas gift to their staff on that day - a Christmas box, as it was called, Rangsainam Saiborne explained.
Boxing day is also part of the Christian/Catholic 12-days-of-Christmas tradition, and is offically classed as the second day of Christmastide.
Christmastide officially ends Jan 6, with the feast of Epiphany (marking the day the Three Wise Men from the East presented their gifts to the infant Jesus, having followed a star to locate the baby).
Alms boxes' are placed in every church on Christmas Day for worshippers to place gifts for the poor of the parish. The boxes are opened on Boxing Day.
"I got woolen sweaters for my kids and a cardigan for myself," said Kong Jana, a maid-servant, who looks forward to this day of gifts.
Churches of various denominations in the city are organising community feasts, which will continue right up to New Year's Eve.
"Christmas is a time for sharing and caring for each other and promoting love and peace. And what better way to do so than to organise community feasts," says Theresa Ranee, who is busy serving local dishes to children in the Christ National Church premises.
Called 'Bam Khana Krismas' in the local language, these are occasions of great rejoicing, when people of all communities share food cooked in a common kitchen.
Christmas and New year across the eight northeastern states - Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Sikkim - has always been different from the rest of the country. People from all faiths join the celebrations, strengthening bonds of togetherness and mutual respect.
Other Christian dominated states like Mizoram and Nagaland are equally ready for the festivities. Houses in the main cities are decked up in a wall of sparkling lights, candles on the window sills and lit-up pine trees in the yards.
Shillong, which is dotted with churches and chapels, is agog with festivity this time of year with street corners and households tastefully illuminated and parks and lake sides teeming with friends and families.
With state government offices and institutions closed for Christmas and New Year, Shillong these days is a city of leisure. While government offices are scheduled to re-open in the first week of January, schools, colleges and other educational institutions will begin classes from mid-February.