Shillong: Meghalaya's 100-year-old towering coniferous pine tree that withstood the 1897 Assam earthquake, is all lit up to usher in the Yuletide spirit.
The 80-feet-tall pine tree in the fore lawn of the All Saints Cathedral, the tallest and oldest tree in the Northeast, could possibly lay claim to such fame in the country too as record of such a tree is not heard elsewhere, Rev PB Lyngdoh, who heads the church, told a news agency today.
The tree has remained lit every single Christmas since it was planted in the 1880s, he said.
It had withstood the test of time and the devastating 1897 Assam earthquake which destroyed parts of the old church.
"Every time the tree is lit, it tells the world that Christmas is around and every evening hundreds of visitors come to look at this giant coniferous pine tree," Lyngdoh said.
Likewise, other churches and chapels in the city are decked up for the season with the ubiquitous pine tree lit up in a corner.
Besides lights and colours, music is in the air as tribal Christians come out of their homes and throng the streets singing Christmas carols.
Iew Duh, the biggest market in Shillong, is flooded with vendors selling special Christmas flowers, available only for less than a month every year during Christmas.
Street corners are also full of vendors selling pine branches at this time of the year.
However, the Yuletide season also keeps forest official on toes.
"We maintain strict vigil in our forests to ensure that pine saplings are not uprooted for sale," a forest official said. Most parts of Meghalaya never really lose its green sheen, not even in the severest of winters, all because of the canopy of the evergreen pines.
"We do not buy Christmas trees from departmental stores here but we prefer a real Christmas tree in our homes," Valerine, a devout Christian said even as she decorates a pine branch freshly cut from a nearby forest in her front yard.
Meghalaya's Garo Hills region also does not lag behind in celebrating Christmas.
It has been a tradition to light up all trees along the road to usher in the Christmas Day and the New Year.
Notwithstanding the law and order situation due to militancy, everyone is upbeat about Christmas, especially those living in the district headquarters, a police official said.
Alva B Sangma, a vernacular editor said her town, Tura, resembles Las Vegas, when asked to describe her town.
Tribal young Garo men beat the traditional drums till about midnight everyday as young women join in the carols, she said.
A group of more than 25 young men in Shillong however, has a different way to welcome the New Year. They prefer to take a dip in the icy pool at midnight, a routine they have been following for over 18 years.
The 'Forever Young' club members and well wishers have announced they will take a plunge at midnight on December 31 in the frozen cold pool filled with 70 ice-blocks.
Club president Michael Syiem said, "Last year there were 60 blocks and this year we will add another 10 ice-blocks in the water."