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Christmas unites Kolkata’s dwindling Armenian community

Celebration reinforces cultural identity and spirit

Christmas unites Kolkata’s dwindling Armenian community
Paul Stephen stands in front of the altar at the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in Kolkata
Julian Das, Kolkata

January 7, 2011

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Celebration of the Armenian Christmas on Jan. 6 brought together some 200 Armenians scattered around the eastern Indian city of Kolkata. They came together to celebrate Christmas at the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth, and later gathered at the Armenian Sports Club to continue the festivities, Paul Stephen, 63, who looks after the 285-year-old church, told “We still follow the Julian calendar, and believe Jesus was born not on Dec. 25, but on Jan. 6, and hence we celebrate Christmas 12 days after customary celebrations of the birth of the Savior,” Stephen explained. The Armenian community in Kolkata includes some 90 students, studying at the city’s Armenian school and college. “They prefer to come to India to do their studies, and learn English and several Indian languages,” Stephen said. However, the community is dwindling, as young people get married and leave the country. Many wealthy Armenian businessmen also donate money to poor Armenians who migrate back to Armenia, he said. According to Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, who is based at the Armenian College, they celebrate Christmas following an extensive period of fasting and prayer. The Armenian Church appointed the priest to look after its members in India and he led the Christmas liturgy at midnight on Jan. 5. At the gathering at the sports club the Armenians exchanged gifts and had dinner that included special Armenian dishes. Saco Vaha Hipe Stephen, 47, said the community feels a sense of unity during the liturgy and at the dinner on Christmas Day. The celebration helps reinforce their Armenian identity and a community spirit, he added. Church records show that the first Armenian was buried there in 1630. Related report ARMENIAN FAITH KEPT ALIVE, ALONE IN SOUTHERN INDIA IE12744.1635
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