Turning her eyes away from the
racks of Christmas cards, she says without any preliminaries, as if
continuing a conversation, pointing to her shopping bags:
year I tell myself I am not going to do this.
confusing, it’s stressful, it’s tiring, when I think I’m finisher,
I’m not, there’s always someone I’ve forgotten, right up to
Christmas Eve. It puts me in debt for months, and on Christmas Day when I
look at myself and everyone around me as inert as overstuffed turkeys,
crawling away, one by one to their beds to sleep, I promise myself again,
not to do it. But here I am, not knowing why I am doing it but doing it
anyway,” she ended miserably.
on his microphone, the spinning instructor booms into the ears of the rows
of people peddling slowly, waiting for class to start: “The rate of
suicide and depression is the highest around Christmas, push yourselves
for this hour, pump endormorphins into your system, you need it now.”
is the season treating you?” say others, delighted with Christmas, only
slightly distracted, (mentally ticking off the clutter of ‘things to
do’). They’ve bought all their presents by August and are joyfully
bounding about putting on their finishing touches to trees and hams, while
the rest of us look on sick with envy.
there are the men by-standers in this occasion marshalled by women, and
hijacked by children. Ask them, “How’s Christmas shopping?” and
they’ll give you a look as incredulous as if you’ve asked them to
dress in drag. “I haven’t bought a bow, a ribbon, a card.”
look irritated, can’t see what all the fuss is about, see their money
flowing down the drain by sentimental women and say: “I am not buying
into that commercialism.”
they don’t. They have no problem giving love on Christmas Day but
memory of the trauma of the consequences of this abstemious behaviour by
wives and girlfriends (the tears, the no-food-on table, the screaming for
God’s sake) make them cave in. They still need broad hints such as “I
loved that bracelet I saw in X shop on X street.”
there are the uncomfortable feelings associated with shopping for
Christmas – guilt – that flaccid emotion that we feel because its not
enough to stop us shopping for that extra frivolity, the price of which
could probably prolong the life of a child in Ethopia for one day.
knowledge that a large percentage of our population will be left gaping at
the mad spending spree of those who can afford it, isn’t enough. It
isn’t enough to know scores of people will continue to live on the
streets, that thousands of children in orphanages, homes, hospitals, will
continue to have a tiny limited future, of ill-health, illiteracy,
emotional problems, a future of crime simply because they don’t have
adults in their lives to guide them away from AIDS, and crime - (products
of ignorance and poverty which swing together), that thousands others will
live with crumbling infrastructure (rivers with overflowing sewage,
impossible roads, limited water supply, substandard housing).
isn’t enough to make us drop our shopping bags and rush to their aid,
partly because apart from the hamper thing, there are no real systems for
people to give back to our society and partially because the greed for
love (you give, you get back) easily overpowers guilt.
I am, shopping list in hand, guiltily reading about what will probably be
among the biggest calamities of this century, hitting more people than the
Holocaust, it’s casualties equaling Bosnia, and Rwanda, and a World War
or two; “The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that over 12
million people in Ethopia and Eritrea are threatened with starvation over
the next months. In Southern Africa drought is threatening the lives of an
estimated 14.4 million people. In Central America over 1.5 million people
face hunger due to drought. In Afghanistan, drought and decades of
conflict wreak havoc on 10 million people. North Korea faces acute food
shortages. Insufficient funding of WFP operations there has led to the
suspension of food aid for 3 million hungry people… with a further 1.5
million likely to be cut off in January.”
WFPs Executive Director James Morris says: “The combined needs of over
40 million people cannot be shrugged off. Nor can the needs of three
hundred million people, hungry children, many of whom can’t attend
still going to buy presents. Because like the woman who dosen’t know why
she is doing it, and the guys who shop reluctantly, I know Christmas
isn’t about shopping.
to me, then. Christmas allows people to admit we can be needy, lonely,
that we are greedy, for the love and care that comes with the present.
With one eye cocked at commercials, the thought of all those
multi-national companies (Harry Potter, Hallmark) making millions out of
us - Christmas is the battle in ourselves. It’s about shooting that
ripple of giving to the small circle around us, to those as far away as
the WFP, struggling now to feed 340 million hungry people on our planet.
presents with fuzzy feelings,
spread that ripple.