Christmas in the Depths of the Himalayas by Dr Anna Dengel
In the vast country yonder called Asia, there is a beautiful valley, surrounded by a chain of high mountains, the heights of most of which have never been disturbed by human feet. In the vale of Kashmir, not only wonderful in its spring and autumn glory, but perhaps more so in its winter garb of miles and miles of snow and ice. The majestic whiteness and stillness of the Himalaya giants grip the heart with a sense of God Who is almighty. Solitude - perfect solitude! Even the bears are fast asleep in their holes; only a snow leopard may prowl here and there; he is left in peace unless, driven by hunger, he ventures down too far down and falls a prey to the clever hunter …
Down in the valley, the people are benumbed from the bitter cold and the poison-laden atmosphere of their homes. As the windows of the dilapidated habitations have no glass in them, the aperture is covered in the winter with thick paper. Many women and children do not leave the house for months. They have no suitable garments to protect themselves. Cleanliness is also neglected. Washing with ice cold water is not an attractive performance, hence it is simply omitted.
The mountain passes, with the exception of one, are snowed up and even through the main one, which leads to the Punjab, there is little traffic and sometimes none for days.
Christmas does not interrupt the monotony of the two million inhabitants; being followers of the prophet Mohammed or Hindus, they either have never heard of the land of the birth of Our Lord, or they ignore it. Among the dwellers … there is a little group of Catholic Missionaries and their charges. Neither snows, nor winds, nor isolation, nor poverty can quench their Christmas spirit, festive mood and eagerness to make everyone around happy.
To relate the experience of an onlooker a few years ago: the priest, a fatherly Missionary from Holland, and the Sisters, were busy making preparations to celebrate the great feast as solemnly as possible to do honour to the Infant Saviour and to make their charges - 17 little orphans - as happy as children in Europe or America. The newly built Mission church was decorated gaily and tastefully in Eastern style and the Christmas Crib put up. As midnight approached, Joseph, the oldest orphan boy, struck a piece of metal, which was dangling from a tree, with a hammer. The resulting chimes announced Midnight Mass. The congregation filed in; four Sisters in habits as white as the snow outside, twelve little girls and five boys, all in their Sunday best. One of the nuns from Canada played the organ, the other nuns sang. Everyone received Holy Communion. Everybody was happy. One could see it on their faces. Peace to men and good will was in the air.
After Mass, the children had their chance of singing a Christmas hymn in their own Kashmiri tongue; it appealed to their hearts and throats. Then came refreshments at this unwonted hour and by 2.00 A.M., everyone was in bed again. Christmas Day was to be the day of surprise. The children were restlessly awaiting the hour announced for the desired event. At 9.00 A.M. sharp, the Rev. Mother opened the door and there, to the children’s delight, stood a Christmas tree full of little lights, toys, nuts, apples, odds and ends. At the top was a beautiful star and underneath a little paper crib.
Every child received a bag of sweets and a toy. For a while, everybody was absorbed in his or her gift; by degrees, they admired each other’s. A woolly rabbit which could hop if a little rubber ball was pressed upon, caused universal astonishment.
In the excitement, no one noticed that little Cecelia, the four-year-old Benjamin of the happy orphan family, was missing. When this was discovered, they searched for her, but in vain. In the course of the morning, one of the nuns happened to go to the church for a visit; there whom did she see but Cecelia sitting in front of the Crib playing self-invented tunes on the little trumpet which she had just received as a gift! The Sister held her breath so as not to disturb this hymn of Gloria of an angel soul, who was drawn to the Crib as the shepherds of old, to express her love for the Saviour of us all. The Christ, our Infant King, is honoured even unto the depths of the snowed-up Himalayan Mountains.
From The Medical Missionary