MUMBAI, India – The thing about Christmas in Bhutan is that it truly is a “Silent Night,” according to the country’s only native-born Catholic priest.
“During the day it is quiet enough and people would frown and look at you if you are loud. The nights are so quiet that you can hear the bright stars sing their celestial songs. In Bhutan I feel I celebrate the true Christmas without any external signs,” said Jesuit Father Kinley Tshering.
A landlocked country in south Asia nestled between China and India, Bhutan has a population that’s two-thirds Buddhist and one-third Hindu, with everyone else accounting for less than one percent of the country’s roughly 750,000 people.
Tshering is thought to be the only Bhutanese convert from Buddhism, which is the state religion in the kingdom. There are around 1,000 Catholics in the country, and all Christians can be viewed with suspicion by the authorities.
The priest noted that in Bhutan, Christmas Day is a regular working day just like another other day.
“Unless you switch on a foreign television channel you may not even know it is Christmas, let alone what it means. Some may understand it is a western new year because of lights and decorations,” Tshering said. “Save a few star hotels with a Christmas tree, there is literally no sign of anything Christmas in Bhutan.”
The Jesuit noted that even a small gesture to commemorate the season can be met with resistance in the country, which has laws against proselytism.
“A friend of mine who at the end of the school year had the bright idea to end the school year with exchange of gifts and a Santa Claus. The person was politely pulled up and reminded that it should not be done next year as the children would be confused,” he told Crux. “So here we are with absolutely nothing external to remind us about Christmas. I have no regrets and think it is fantastic so that my Christmas is not consumeristic nor external.”
Tshering said during Christmas, his mind and heart went back to two thousand years ago, on a cold winter day.
“I can feel the pregnant silence, I can smell the straw of the manger, I can hear the Angels sing and the joy of the shepherds fill my own heart. Far away I can feel the thud of the camel’s hooves of the Magi approaching. The pretty town of Bethlehem is before my eyes,” he explained.
“So this Christmas, yes there is nothing external but I put up a little star in my room, and early morning rushed out to see that morning star to ask it to tell once again that lovely story of how God became man to be truly with us. This man was called Jesus, Immanuel – God is with us. He was so much for us that he gave his life on the cross because that was how he felt He could truly love us and much more even after his death, he came back, because Love never dies,” Tshering said.
The priest also said he is putting “this story into action.”
“I will open my inn so that the poor Joseph and Mary can come in. I will open my house and hearth to share his love with poor. This winter some poor boys will come and live with me so the story can be lived and my Christmas becomes not only a silent night, but a holy night,” Tshering said.
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