Nepal celebrated its first Christmas ever after being declared a federal republic in December 2007.
The first church was built in Nepal just 50 years ago, under monarchial rule and although there are over 200 churches and at least 400,000 Christians today, the small Christian community has often faced repression in the past.
This year's Christmas ushered in a new era for the largely Hindu and Buddhist country, with the government even declaring December 25 a public holiday.
With Christians making up only 0.5 per cent of the population, many saw the government's move as a positive indication that the long-awaited day of freedom has come.
"We are very happy that the government has declared Christmas as a public holiday. This year we will pray for the peace and happiness of Nepali people as we set our foot on a new Nepal," Binod Gurung, president of Nepal Catholic Society, said.
Nepal President Dr Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal joined other patronages in wishing Nepali Christians on Christmas.
In a statement issued by the President’s Office on Christmas Day, President Yadav expressed his wish to create peaceful, prosperous and progressive Nepal following the path showed by Jesus Christ.
Mr Dahal hoped that people all over the world would be inspired to work for humanity, brotherhood, sympathy and secularism for the betterment of the people.
Prisoners were among those making the most of the opportunity to discover more about the birth of Christ.
“We have started singing carols and are reading aloud from the Bible,” Bichhe Tamang, a Nepali prisoner serving a 10-year term in Kathmandu’s Central Jail told IANS.
“I had come to visit somebody in Kathmandu when police raided his house and he fled,” says Tamang. “The cops found me and the drugs in the same room and I was charged as an accomplice.”
Another jail inmate, Sunil Darshandhari, was arrested for being involved in a gang fight that led to a death.
During his stay in Central Jail, he came in contact with Christian inmates and later became a believer. He has since been transferred to another prison in Lalitpur district, where he started a Christian fellowship.
The New Testament was first translated into Nepalese by William Carey in 1821 and the whole Bible was later translated in 1914.
Although the Constitution of Nepal upholds religious freedom, proselytism is still illegal. There have also been reports of persecution against Christians and foreign missionaries being expelled for allegedly converting non-believers.
Nepal hopeful after first official Christmas
Published 26 December 2008