“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”~ Dalai Lama.
‘Tis Christmastime…that time of the year when we see, hear and smell those familiar sensations that take us back to a simpler, more innocent time. A time when all that was expected of you was that you be grateful for whatever you receive, whether it is an ostentatious display of plenty, or something as simple as a new outfit. Whether you grew up believing in a fat belly white skin Santa Claus or not, it was the air of possibility that enchanted, and even when the reality did not live up to the hype, there was always next year.
My early Christmases were spent in the UK, and although there was no guarantee of snow, it was cold. And we had coal burning fireplaces, and a mantelpiece, and of course the Christmas tree, all of the magical components of a good Christmas. It was a little bizarre to be relocated (very close to Christmas) to the tropical version of the holiday, with similar but different traditions. And even though we were not bundled up in winter coats with hats and gloves, we soon learned that something special visits over the Christmas time – Christmas breeze! It funnels down all the way from Canada and points north! So on the early predawn hours of Christmas Day when you woke up early to search through your stocking, you had to put on a sweater, and before you could settle in to your new toys, you went to Church for the very special early Christmas morning service. I don’t know if they have this elsewhere in the Caribbean, but that is not the tradition in England or the US as far as I know.
There is no more special time to sing Christmas Carols than on Christmas Day itself. With the lights on the Christmas tree to dazzle, and the nativity scene on display, it was possible to believe in the mystery, in the simplicity of the Christmas story. We would leave the service with the dawn painting colors beyond the mountain ridges that surrounded the church, it was a magical time.
Of course Jamaica had other Christmas traditions, and recently a video has been circulating, narrated by one of Jamaica’s media personalities, reminding us of how Christmas was ‘back in the day’, those old time Jamaican Christmases. One of the key features was held on Christmas Eve, ‘Gran Market’, a special market with more dry goods, clothes and toys than usual. Sparklers (starlight) and ‘chibbum’ also featured. Often this was when parents would do whatever Christmas shopping they could afford, for of course there was not much extra cash to go around. Unless you got a ‘Christmas work’, day jobs which paid people to ‘bush’ and clean up the roadways and paint town squares, and hopefully if the worker didn’t stop by the rum bar on his way home there would be something left over for the kids!
When we were clearing through my parents’ stuff a few years ago, I read a story my father jotted down as the basis for a sermon. I may not get the details right. But it basically told the tale of a young girl who was fortunate enough to have received a Christmas gift early, from a relative in ‘farrin’ (foreign, as Jamaicans call ‘abroad’). She was very excited, knowing how special her Christmas would be. Her father informed her that she would have to share it with her sibling (it may have been a doll). She became very angry, declaring how unfair it was. Her father confiscated the doll from her, and on Christmas morning not only did she not have her doll, she had to wear her old clothes to church, as he had not bought her the usual new outfit that every child expects to get for Christmas Day. She told my father that although it was her worst Christmas ever, she certainly got the message about the importance of sharing.
In our over-commercialized Christmas, with kids whose expectations run to technology and gifts costing hundreds of dollars, it is easy to lose sight of the simple pleasures. It is we who set up unreasonable expectations, and buy into the media message that more is better, that we are supposed to go overboard each Christmas. One of the most beautiful features of the internet is that there are an abundance of ways to give a gift to a stranger, a person far away who is not looking for a non-essential scarf, or a high calorie treat, but is hoping for an opportunity to provide a living for their family. There are organizations that accept donations in the name of your family member, to provide clean water to a family in Africa, or a goat, or an opportunity for girls to go to school.
One of my father’s favorite quotes was “Live simply, so others may simply live.” It may have been Mother Theresa who said it first, but the concept of decluttering your life, of downsizing your expectations, of rejecting the purchase of stuff that will be placed in drawers or soon given away is a beautiful one. There are gifts of time, of company, of face to face visits to people who are sick or lonely. There are those gifts to charity, to homeless shelters and others who cannot afford Christmas. We can change our traditions to reflect a more caring world, one which reaches out to those who don’t have; to those whose needs are so basic.
On this wonderfully cool South Florida morning, I wish you everything you have everything you need for Christmas, and I hope you find a way to share it with those who don’t. It is easier than you think.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!