Christmas Stars Shine Bright In Andhra’s Godavari

Bhimavaram (Andhra Pradesh): Come December every year, several pockets in Andhra Pradesh’s central Godavari coastal belt and beyond adorn themselves in Christmas glitter with stars, Christmas trees and nativity scenes recreated.

A short tour by the road or train through the villages of West Godavari, East Godavari and few other districts will throw up a spectacle of stars of all sizes and colours, unlike any other place in the country.

“In 1975, my father went to visit my uncle in Kerala, who used to work in the military and there he saw some stars. On his return, he crafted a star and adorned our Bible Mission church in Bethanypeta,” pastor Prakash Onesim from Bhimavaram told IANS.

It became a standard practice over the years every December to put a large star in front of their church even as Onesim moved to Bengaluru to establish another Bible Mission church, 772 km south west of his hometown Bhimavaram.

It has become a tradition in the Godavari districts, located by the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India, for most churches to install giant stars for the whole month of December and first week of January.

“For every Christmas, we decorate our church with a 7-8 ft large star while other churches are going for stars as big as 10-12 ft,” said Onesim, who gave up a software engineer’s job at IBM to preach gospel.

Not just churches alone, many Christian homes light up their home facades with stars while some enhance with colourful LED lights.

According to Onesim, a Christmas star has symbolic value as the camel-mounted three wise men from the east were led by a star to the humble manger at Bethlehem in Israel where Jesus Christ was born.

“A star says there is Jesus in my home. There is Jesus in my family. There is Jesus in our church. We gave him a place. It is symbolic and inviting others,” he said.

Though the culture of lighting stars came late to the paddy and aquaculture powerhouses West and East Godavari districts, Onesim said it has been widely adopted in the past four decades, irrespective of a church’s denomination.

Athar Ali Khan, an expert in cooking ‘dum biryani’ from Visakhapatnam, who set up ‘Daawat-e-Shaan’, a small restaurant near KGRL College in Bimavaram, on the way to Perupalem beach said he did not notice the star culture of Godavari districts that much in other places like his hometown.

“In Andhra, I have observed this star culture to be highest in East and West Godavari. I have seen in Vizag, but fewer stars than here. Even poor people living in small thatched huts flaunt stars here,” said Khan, who started receiving orders for his biryani from a small church near Bhimavaram railway junction.

Though the stars are fewer in Visakhapatnam, Khan said the city witnesses a lot of Christmas parties all through December.

“Just like how we have a month for Ramzaan, Christians have December month to celebrate. We have a month, they have a month. It is stars in December, Ganesh idols during Vinayakachaturthi,” he observed about the different attractions of myriad festivals.

Khan said he makes it a point to see different styles of Ganesh idols set up across the town during Vinayakachaturthi.

“Idols for Vinayakachaviti, that is another kind of enjoyment. We see who put what kind of idols. Though I am from a different faith, we take a peek at the idols, checking how big is the idol and where it was set up. Those 11 days, that is one kind of entertainment,” he said, pointing out that installing idols for Dhussera has also started in this part of the country since the past few years.

T. Praveen, who worked as an assistant director in Tollywood and hails from Malkipuram in East Godavari said it has become very common for him to see large number of stars in and around his hometown.

“In Telangana also you don’t see so many stars. As I live here, it is not a new feeling. But for others, it may be a new phenomenon. Maybe if somebody from North India comes, they may know. It may be common for us as we have been doing it for long time,” said Praveen.

Like everywhere, most shopping complexes and malls also deck up with Christmas theme to attract festival shoppers.

Every December brings its uniquely joyful vibes to Sridhar, a saree trader from Bhimavaram. He said it is a good feeling to see the winter lights and sights lit up by stars, Christmas trees and nativity scenes.

“Even I feel like keeping a nativity scene at my home. Manger, sheep, straw…Feels like we are at the time when Jesus was there. For Christmas, me and my mother along with her friends go to church every year. We go there, sit for some time and return,” said Sridhar.

Even after Christmas, the stars continue to shine bright until the first week of January as new year’s eve and January 1st are celebrated with equal fervour and faith by Christians.

Most of them attend the midnight candle light service on December 31st, which rings in the new year, an important part of the Gregorian calendar, followed by everyone and hinged on the birth (anno domini, in the year of the Lord) year of Jesus Christ.