Rediscovering the true spirit of Christmas
One week from today, that special day on the Christian calendar, which most Barbadians eagerly look forward to each year, will once again be upon us.
Christmas, 2015, will greet some of us feeling on top of the world, happy to be alive, despite the various challenges. On the other hand, it will find many others feeling down, not through any fault of their own in some cases, but merely because they were hapless victims of circumstance –– the curtailment of employment, for example, and the resulting loss of financial independence; the tragic death of a close relative, or personal illness.
It is our hope and prayer, in this season of peace and goodwill, that the less fortunate among us will get to experience this year the joy of Christmas and the love of God, through generous acts of kindness from those who are better off and are conscious of their divine responsibility to their fellowman.
Christmas stands out in a unique way because no other celebration generates as much excitement and involves such extensive preparation.
In a sense, this preparation reflects a deep inner yearning in most of us to be on our very best to greet the arrival of God in the baby Jesus. Worldwide, these preparations generate billions of dollars in business activity each year.
In the Barbadian tradition, Christmas has always been a time for sharing the spirit of the season with families, friends and neighbours. Because Christmas is synonymous with entertaining, persons go to great lengths to ensure that their homes are spick and span for enhanced appearance and comfort, and that their fridges, cupboards and trollies are filled with food and drink so that anyone dropping by can be treated to a generous serving.
In the mad pre-Christmas rush, fresh coats of paint are applied to the interiors and exteriors of homes. Furnishings are given a thorough cleaning or, in some cases, replaced altogether. From early morning until late at night, the stores and malls are filled to capacity with shoppers hoping to find the perfect gift for loved ones.
Not leaving out themselves, the ladies in particular treat themselves to the finest outfits, hairdos and accessories to look their best Christmas morning, whether the plan is to attend sunrise service and go to Queen Park’s for the music and fashion event that has become embedded in Barbadian Yuletide tradition.
Modernization over the past 40 years has fundamentally changed the character of the Barbadian celebration of Christmas. Whereas the preparations and celebrations of yesteryear were largely community-centred, today the emphasis is more individualistic. In the bygone Barbadian village, if Miss Browne was slaughtering a pig or cow for Christmas, almost every neighbour would “engage” a portion of the meat from her.
Similarly, the village dressmaker or tailor would be kept busy making Christmas outfits as few ventured into The City to make such purchases. The village economy was self-sufficient.
People were generally poor because not enough money was in circulation as today. Therefore, country folk in particular used what they had, thanked God for their blessings, and practised His love through sharing.
The result was a celebration of Christmas which was far spiritually richer than today. It was not surprising. Back then, widespread poverty caused Barbadians to find strength by drawing on their spirituality.
In every aspect of their lives, they relied on the goodness of God and celebrated Christmas as a spiritual event when God became man in the person of Jesus and dwelt among us to share our trials and then to set us free.
With an emphasis on materialism, modernization, together with secularization, has contributed to eroding the central role of God in the Barbadian experience, which our National Anthem underscores.
The Lord has been the people’s guide for past 300 years.
Materialism has lured many a Barbadian from worshipping the God of our forefathers to worshipping the god of the market economy.
The persisting economic crisis, which is a source of so much unhappiness today, provides confirmation that this new god has failed. Christmas, 2015, can be a turning point if it serves to reintroduce us to a celebration anchored in traditional Barbadian spirituality. Therein we will have a true encounter with the Christ, the babe of Bethlehem, who came so that “all may have life
and have it abundantly”. That “all” includes ourselves.
Amid the hustle and bustle, the final week before Christmas presents a timely opportunity to ponder on the real “reason for the season”.