By Vishal Gulati
In a first as per the living memory of old-timers, there will be no traditional Christmas religious services like midnight Mass and pealing of the bell in the neo-Gothic style Anglican Christ Church on Shimla’s Ridge in the time of the Coronavirus pandemic.
However, morning prayers will be held twice inside the church on Christmas by following health protocols and after that it will be closed for the audience.
Church authorities told IANS on Thursday that owing to the pandemic it was decided not to hold the Christmas Eve gatherings.
“Except two prayers sessions on Christmas, the church will be closed for the worshippers like on other days,” a church official told IANS.
Up to 50 people can attend indoor services in religious places in the state.
Built in 1857, the Anglican Christ Church is said to be northern India’s second oldest one.
Shimla’s old-timers get nostalgic with church’s rich tales of the era gone by.
“It would be the first time in the seven decades of my life that I will not be attending midnight mass in Christ Church on Christmas Eve,” octogenarian Samuel Dean, who is born and brought up in Shimla, told IANS.
He said on normal occasions the midnight Mass began with traditional services like carols and ended with a lot of merrymaking and blessings — conspicuous with its absence this year.
“We were told that even the bell will not be pealed for the midnight mass, a great miss of nostalgic moments,” an emotional Dean said.
Added his wife Krishna Dean: “We hope the joyous ringing of the bell will echo in Shimla’s skyline in 2021.”
Last year the historic bell of the Anglican Christ Church pealed for the midnight mass on Christmas after a gap of over three decades. The bell had developed a snag in the early 1980s and was lying worthless.
Echoing similar sentiments, Shimla-based writer-cum-historian Raaja Bhasin, 60, said occasionally he used to visit the church with his family and Christian friends to attend the midnight Mass.
“As far as my living memory goes, this is for the first time that the Christ Church is not holding any religious service, including the midnight Mass,” Bhasin told IANS.
Shimla, which served as the summer capital of British India between 1864 and 1939, has 91 British-era heritage buildings, including Ellerslie, housing the state secretariat, Vidhan Sabha and Peterhoff (which was renovated after being devastated in a fire nearly two decades ago.
More than 60 years after the British left, this Himalayan town still attracts thousands of domestic and overseas tourists. Many of the foreign tourists, in fact, are descendants of Englishmen who lived here during the Raj.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])