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So this is Christmas....

7 December 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The song is simply haunting. It is certainly worthwhile pondering on its lyrics that the legendary John Lennon added to the everlasting list of Christmas carols that ring out with the arrival of December.

 “So this is Christmas and what have you done?”

I heard it this time in a buzzing shopping mall and stopped, leant against a pillar and listened as the words seeped deep into my very soul. Yes, it is a very meaningful question to ask ourselves, ‘what have we done?’ especially as another year draws to an end.

The season of Christmas has started with a bang; Singapore has lit up in revelry and so has most of the world. Everywhere around me colourful shining bubbles shimmered and angels floated and little jet lights winked and blinked at me to tell me it is Christmas. Shops were over-flowing; sales of this and sales of that and there were fat pillow-bellied ‘Santas’ walking around with snowy beards and faces as red as beetroot, adding colour to the festivities. There were gigantic Christmas Trees reaching to the roof with a zillion sparkles, each loaded at the base with gift boxes of all sizes. They were wrapped in glittering multi-coloured paper and ribbon-tied. The boxes made me wonder how mundane the celebration would be; with all the glitter and glamour if the inside was empty, like the boxes. That’s when the question ‘what have you done’ exploded in my scatter-brain with its ‘guilt-tainting’ powerful message.

Lennon’s words hovered around my head recurring its rhythm and propelling me to get up from the ‘do nothing’ seat and do something for Christmas. So I went back to my room and sat at my lap top and started adding my two cents worth to the Yuletide.
The celebration goes back 2000 years to a straw covered manger in an obscure village called Bethlehem in a bashed-about little country,violently known as Palestine. This whole carnival today is a blessed remembrance of that December night and has its roots on a humble manger, a poor carpenter and a Holy mother giving birth to the Saviour. The truth sadly remains that the pomp and pageantry of the present day Christmas is a far cry from the true meaning of that Palestinian story about a Babe surrounded by cows, donkeys and simple shepherds shivering in the winter night.

Who am I to judge? Let’s sing Lennon again.

“So this is Christmas, what have you done?”

I love Christmas, it is a great celebration all over the world and as I write these lines in Singapore and I hear Silver Bells and White Christmas and how Rudolf is making sure that Santa Claus is coming to town. I too will receive my Santa gifts and I know there will be some for me under the Christmas-Tree on the 25th morning. That is tradition and it is nice and even an old pelican like me enjoy receiving Christmas presents.

How much more would it be for a kid or kids from the other side of the coin? Yes they will see fireworks in a blue-black sky as Christmas begins. Other people’s sky rockets exploding in the midnight silence and cascading like miniature stars, a consolation prize for the poor who too may like to celebrate the birth of Christ. They will hear Christmas music too, on the street and on other people’s radios and learn to sing them meaninglessly. “Silent Night” is simply mythology to them and often they get excluded from the ‘Oh come all ye Faithful.’ The poor too know all about the sights and smells of cakes and pies but for them it is mostly a taste in prospect than a reality. The crackers they hear are the neighbours’ and the toys they see are what Santa has gifted to a ‘different’ kind of children.

Most kids living below the poverty line see all of Christmas through other people’s eyes whilst theirs are veiled in sadness. They still refuse to abandon the most absurd of hopes. Some even write those meaningless notes to Santa asking for the moon. Of course Santa Claus is choosy when it comes to where he stops his sledge and from which chimney he will climb down. In any case when did shanties have decorated chimneys and socks hanging to be filled with Christmas gifts?

I still remember what an old priest once told me, how he went to a remote village and a little boy there asked him “Father, why is Santa Claus not coming to our village to give us Christmas presents?”  Or what a kind Nun said to me about a little orphan who got a used tennis ball from Santa and carefully kept it under his pillow and went to sleep. I was in Jaffna sometime back, just after the conflict was over, sharing a Christmas lunch with orphaned girls who lost their parents in the war. My friend, the priest had done his best to arrange gifts for each of these children. The world wasn’t that kind; I saw what they got, big cheap brown paper bags and small ‘supposed to be’ presents that amounted to almost nothing. The disparity shamed me. So this is Christmas?

Sometimes we wonder, “How much can we do?” There is so much poverty around us and there are too many children who are poor.  True, very true, but then we do know the beautiful story of the old man walking the beach and throwing starfish back to the waves. Remember what he said? “Yes there are thousands I cannot help, but to this one it makes a difference.” We could do the same, at least let’s think about it when we get on the blocks for the “on your marks” to start the Christmas race. Man! We all know if the coins are jingling then it is a bash and a splash and eating till the belly button pops out. The partying and the drinking go into ‘over-drive’ and the fun and frolic climb on ladders to cloud nine. This sure is Christmas and the only way in which this one-sided equation can tally is if we had cared to find at least one starfish on the poverty beach.

Yes, the birthday party is on the twenty fifth and the whole world is getting ready to celebrate. Gifts are bought for all those who are dear and close to us. Cellophane-covered hampers go to Godfathers simply to make sure the Godchildren would get better treatment in the coming corporate year. Compulsory Christmas-gift recipients are cursed and given step-motherly treatment and on the same breath hopes run high for the reciprocation. “They invited us so we have to invite them” becomes almost as popular as ‘Jingle bells.’

Of course it is a definite guillotine too for the swine, the chicken, the turkey and the lamb as they get martyred in thousands to memorialise Bethlehem and the manger. All that is fine, people need to celebrate, that is part of life. But it would be nice too if one can remember the Birthday Boy and put him down in the gift list and buy him something;Find a starfish to commemorate the compassion of the Babe of Bethlehem. After all, it is his birthday we are celebrating.

“So this is Christmas, what have you done?”

John Lennon’s carol reverberates in my mind. So I write hoping these words might scatter in the wind and settle on someone who may be reminded to add the Birthday Boy to the gift list. Nothing fancy, nothing big, just a gesture of kindness to include the lesser children of God in the celebration by giving them something to flavour their stale daily bread. It is easy, it is gratifying and it is sacred. And more so, it is the duty of all of us who celebrate Christmas to take even a solitary starfish and throw him back to the sea.
“So this is Christmas, what have you done?”  

I thank you John Lennon for waking me up. It is time now to go and buy a gift for the Birthday Boy.

Toss the thought and call, heads you win, tails you win too. It is as simple as that.

Capt. Elmo Jayawardena

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