Christmas in the City of Angels

By Lenard R. Mahaarachchi

Christmas celebrations in America begin with the switching on of lights on the State Christmas tree by the President of the US. California on the southern tip of North America belonged to Mexico before it became America’s 31st state. Mexico’s Spanish background has been retained by the Americans and one finds a bit of Spanish history all over California.

There is a large concentration of Sri Lankans in California, especially in the San Francisco area maybe because the weather is typically Lankan. Sacramento is the capital of California but Los Angeles (LA ) stands out in many respects.

St. Mel. Pic courtesy

Los Angeles is Spanish for the “City of Angels”. In Bethlehem 2000 years ago, angels appeared on the first Christmas night to announce the Birth of Jesus Christ, God made Man. Christians in Los Angeles remember the event singing Christmas carols not only on the night of Christ’s birth but almost daily during Christmastide.

A notable feature in Sri Lankan homes in LA is that when they get together at parties they sing, and everyone, including children join in the joyous singing of carols. I had the good fortune of witnessing this last December when I visited my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren in Agoura hills in LA.

At Christmas, the streets of the town area are gaily decorated and there are lights on the trees. Houses are decorated too, many having set up cribs outside and more snow décor around in areas where snow fails to fall. We had to go to Nevada far away to enjoy the snowy scenes and play in the deep snow. In LA there are a few churches - our parish church was dedicated to St. Mel, a lesser known saint outside California and unknown to us, Lankan Catholics. St. Mel is an Irish saint and since the parish is run by an Irish trio of priests, the church has got that unfamiliar name. In close proximity are two other churches, one dedicated to St. Maximilian Colbe and the other, to St. Jude, the Patron of hopeless cases. As this saint is popular among Sri Lankans, this church in faraway US too is patronized by Lankan Catholics who visit the shrine from the adjoining states.

On Christmas eve, the parish had its carols and the scene of that first Christmas was beautifully dramatized. Another novel feature that I witnessed at Midnight Mass was of American girls doing an Oriental dance at the “Gloria” which is the most special moment of that service. I detected a similarity in the singing, the prayers and the order of the mass to what we follow here in Lanka, a reminder of the church’s uniformity worldwide. Not many youth were seen at church but there were many invalids making it to church, some in wheelchairs.

After the service the three celebrants walked down the isle to the porch where they wished each and every member of the congregation. I visited some of my son’s friends for Christmas lunch and presto, their parents were school mates. The Sri Lankan community in LA seems to enjoy the American way of life, and they share their cultural identity with other minority communities who live in the US.

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