My Christmas tree is up! Yeah!! The lights are all sparkly and bright and they make the traditional colours of red and white stand out, resulting in, as hubby put it “a professional looking tree”. Okay I admit, in the grand scheme of things, being able to have and decorate a tree may seem trivial, but bear with me. I love Christmas! Unashamedly so. And here’s why ….
Growing up, we didn’t have much. Now we were not unique as pretty much all my friends were poor. You may have heard the phrase “dirt poor” – well, I had friends whose floors were exactly that: dirt. No fancy carpets or wood, just plain old dirt. So anyway … I remember loving the feeling that came with the approach to Christmas: my father would be in a good mood (apart form that one Christmas where he went all terminator style on our house, but that’s another story); we would most likely have food to eat; the house would be filled with handmade decorations (my mom would bring in branches and we’d make paper chains and other paper decorations) and depending on the year, we might have had store-bought tinsel and lights; friends and family would stop by each other’s homes sharing in refreshments of sorrell and ginger wine, rum soaked fruit cakes, and other yummy Caribbean delicacies. As children, we got to stay up late listening to the adults tell stories and drink rum.
Now here’s the thing, I don’t remember fancy presents as such, although there was this time my older brother bought my sister and I a doll’s house which had everything in it. I loved playing with that, imagining myself one day living in such luxury. It was the atmosphere that was created; it was the fact that in that moment it didn’t matter that we were poor; it didn’t matter that my dad beat my mom from time to time, or was abusive to my brother; it didn’t matter that I was wearing hand-me-downs or that my sister and I shared a room with our parents and had to live with listening to the sounds of unwanted sexual advances by our dad to our mom. It was Christmas! A time of joy and merriment and I loved it! When I reached mid teens, things were slightly better – my older siblings worked and looked after us, particularly my older sister. And the tradition of making Christmas special continued. Again, it wasn’t the presents – there was no expensive or fancy stuff – it was the sense of family being together, the sound of Christmas carols and the smell of spices and baked ham.
For all I know, there were only two or three Christmases like I described: I’m sure my older siblings have different stories to tell, but that is the memory I carry with me. Sadly, I believe that something happens when people start to do well in life: we forget about the small pleasures and we get a bit grumpy, complaining about carols being sung too early, or trees being put up in Advent – shock, horror! Actually, when I say people, I mean Christians. Seriously peeps, chill out already! Let people have their moment, let them savour in the warmth of the Christmas season if they so choose! I myself have been guilty of that and I’ve had to stop myself and say. “Ramona, get a grip”.
We talk about the Christmas story being about a refugee family searching for welcome and hospitality, of a baby born in a stable, and then we complain because people are starting the celebrations too early, or are spending money unnecessarily. Who are we to judge? What do we know of others’ stories, of their daily struggles? Maybe, just once in a year, they put their problems aside and try to find meaning in their lives. Isn’t that what Christmas is about? Is it not a story of hope, of light in darkness? A child born to lift us up out of our dreary existence and transport us into a place of dazzling lights and community, friendship, and hope?
Of course I know that’s not the whole of it. Of course I do not like the over-commercialisation of Christmas and the unnecessary greed that can occur during this time of year. But we all come to Christmas differently because our lives the rest of the year are also different. And yes, I want others to know the reason for Christmas but berating them about carols is not exactly in keeping with the spirit of Christmas is it?
I read an article the other day that talked about how those who are not in want find it easy to restrict themselves. Think about it: have you ever heard of someone who was struggling to feed themselves talk of going on a diet? This really struck me especially as I’ve been trying to follow a pattern of reading during Advent, as well as focus on the idea of waiting and preparation. It reminded me of how judgemental I have become because the story of my childhood is not my current story.
So I keep my Christmas traditions going and drive my family mad in the process as I try to recreate the feelings of childhood Christmases, wanting them to savour each moment we spend together. And this is why I say Christmas is for the poor: it is a time when families come together to make memories, and the excessive buying of presents perhaps for some might be a way of creating memories for their loved ones that they themselves did not have, or an attempt at masking the dreariness of their lives even for a day. This Christmas put your judgement aside and instead ask, what can I do? How an I help create warm memories for those around me and in particular those who find he season a struggle? And if you don’t know who or how to help, why not volunteer at Crisis?