Deconstructing Christmas

We must start a new life and family amidst an embodied diversity of a multinational culture reputed for its familial spirit of belonging and ever-present hand of friendship.

by Ruwantissa Abeyratne

A ray of hope flitters in the sky
A shiny star lights up way up high
All across the land dawns a brand-new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born ~ 
 Fred Jay (Friedrich Alex Jacobson ) 

( December 26, 2017, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) It all started when a child was born to rid the world of sin and darkness.  The Gospel according to St. Luke in Chapter 2:8-12 says: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Colm Toibin in his novella The Testament of Mary has Mary (the mother of Jesus) saying (of Jesus): “He died to redeem the world. . . His death has freed mankind from darkness and from sin. . .. His suffering was necessary. . .  It was how mankind would be saved.” There is nothing in the Holy Scriptures to say that Christmas is a religious holiday nor is there any guidance in the book as to how Christmas should be observed. This lacuna has enabled various cultures around the World to develop rituals and popular traditions of their own for Christmas.

Paul William Roberts in his informative and entertaining travel book Journey of the Magi: In Search of the Birth of Jesus records that “The Feast of Christmas was not established as a festival by the Church until somewhere near A.D. 336”.  Therefore, like any other festival, the feast of Christmas is a human construct reflecting hope and enlightenment.

It is somewhat curious that we use the stock phrase “Merry Christmas” when we wish each other during the festive season and decorate our houses and commercial buildings with lights and tinsel.  Not to sound a Grinch, the author hastens to add that he too revels in enjoying the feast with his family in a brightly decorated house replete with the traditional tree during the festive season.   However, it also behoves us to put Christmas in its true context – of the child – any and every child born bringing hope for humanity, be it a scientist who will rid us of cancer, or a visionary entrepreneur who will take us to Mars.

The hope of Christmas pales somewhat when one looks at the plight of children – our saviours of the future. A UNESCO report says: “[A]bout 617 million children and adolescents worldwide are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, signalling “a learning crisis” that could threaten progress on global development goals”. UNESO concludes that this figure is a wake-up call for more investment and global involvement in education. A UNICEF website cries out: “Every child has the right to a fair chance in life. But around the world, millions of children are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage that endangers their futures – and the future of their societies”.

There are glaring examples of the plight of children in war torn regions of the world as well as in extremely poor nations struck by natural disasters such as drought and famine. In Yemen, according to a UNICEF report, 1,676 children have been killed and 2,760 have been injured, while at least 1,800 children were recruited or used by parties to the conflict. Turning to Syria, Dr. Samantha Nutt, in her article The Children of Syria: From despair to Where? writes: “Some bear physical scars. All carry emotional ones. On the Syrian border, where the swell of refugees fleeing a bloody and unrelenting conflict shows no sign of abating, the stories that are the hardest to hear belong to the children. War permeates their dreams at night. It has made many of them too anxious to go to school, to leave their homes, or to be more than a few feet from their parents. Children who were once confident, bright and articulate now cower in corners of make-shift tents, eyes downcast, the strain of their lives palpable”.

In a Report released last week UNICEF said of children in South Sudan: “South Sudan’s children are facing a raft of daily horrors and deprivations and urgently require a peaceful, protective environment” and warned that  “anything less, places children and women at even greater risk of grave violations and abuse…more than half the children of South Sudan are “in the throes of tragedy” – victims of malnutrition, disease, forced recruitment, violence and the loss of schooling”.

We are in a new millennium that is just 17 years old in which we constantly hope that peace and heightened international cooperation could lead to a better world.

Looking at the plight of our children, through our eyes, Christmas should be a time for introspection; of self examination for self worth. It is a time that all the world demonstrably shows their capacity to shed differences and work toward the common human goal of peace and prosperity that would ensure our children’s safety.  We may live in a glamourous world of achievement and material ostentation. We may individually want to be identified with our own accomplishments, but those who govern must ensure that the endangerment and exploitation of children stop.

We are in a new millennium that is just 17 years old in which we constantly hope that peace and heightened international cooperation could lead to a better world. One which would make our experiences of the previous millennium – of futile wars fought, the needless loss of innocent life, and the nagging feeling of self deprecation of not giving enough to our less fortunate fellow beings, go away for ever. A new era that would make us all serve the world without the prejudice of hatred and bigotry.  Above all, an era that would keep the most vulnerable of our society – our children – safe.

This is an era where we must be aware that civic consciousness primarily means people in power and in charge should instil in others who depend on them greater knowledge and awareness of international cooperation and sharing, in order that they could offer their specialised skills to the world, while fully understanding the contribution they are making to their fellow beings.

We must nurture our boundless spirit of giving, particularly to those in distress. When it comes to giving, we must not distinguish between our own people who are thrown out of a building which is destroyed by an explosion, and those in the Philippines who are rendered homeless by a flood, or those in Chile who are destroyed by a mudslide.  This quality is a great consolation and blessing to humanity which carries the message that we do not, and indeed should not shut our doors to those who genuinely need our help.

We must start a new life and family amidst an embodied diversity of a multinational culture reputed for its familial spirit of belonging and ever-present hand of friendship. This expectation is particularly important to us, having experienced an environment of glamourous uncertainty and suspicion wrought by misunderstanding and discord.

There is no doubt that, with the birth and life of Christ, the ancient world became one. Since then, we are one world on some occasions, only periodically, always in the winter of some personal tragedy, amidst our own private grief.  Not all the joys we share at the Nativity or coming of Christ nor tears that we shed when confronted with his death during the period of Lent would be much use to us unless we pluck from his own life the nettle of things done – something which can endure, something which we can value. In this context what is most important is the message of Christ recorded in the Scriptures: “when people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

History would stand between his exemplary life and oblivion, giving us his sacred message, that we will be judged not by our achievements, but by our compassion.

We will be measured not by our materialistic accomplishments but by our capacity to give. We will be judged by the legacy we leave behind and the compromises we make with each other for the greater good of our children.

Our Christmas should not only be “Merry and Bright” but also thoughtful and introspective.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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