Seeking meaning in Christmas


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Category: Reflections Date: 22 Dec 02

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:

“Every year I tell myself I am not going to do this.

“It’s 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.


Pinning 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.”


“How 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.


Then 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.”


Others 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.”


And they don’t. They have no problem giving love on Christmas Day but nothing else.


But the 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.”


Then 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.


The 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).


Knowing 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.


So here 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.”


The 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 school.”


I’m 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.


It came 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.


Exchange presents with fuzzy feelings,

but spread that ripple.

Merry Christmas.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur