Striking the right balance

This time of the year usually means different things for different people. For the religious, especially those in the Christian faith, it is a time of immense significance and one of the most holy times on their calendar.

For the business person, it is an important opportunity to increase sales and to help build the economy, especially as the early part of the New Year is usually the slowest period.

For others, it is a festive time where gift giving, joy and sharing abounds.

Festivals bring a variety of responses and reactions. I have over the years noticed that the lament at this time is that the whole reason for the season is lost in the commercialization of the occasion. Interestingly enough, the same cry is being sounded in many other faiths and their festivities.

In Islam, the celebration of Eid is very similar to what happens around any other faith-based traditions of festivals: gift-giving, sharing, meeting family and friends. In the Hindu tradition of Diwali and in the Jewish celebrations, the same concerns are being raised as to whether the true meaning of the occasion is still felt.

Throughout the years and, now very often on social media, one finds those who espouse the view that the reality of what happens at this time of the year is far removed from anything to do with the religious reason for the occasion. Several commentators point out practices that represent the period that is being celebrated now, have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. And the reality is that I believe most people already know that and perhaps agree with that point of view.

However, it has become so widely accepted, that it is part of the culture of the festival. The origins of all these activities and the traditions associated are inconsequential as persons get immersed in its practice. And for many, it doesn’t really matter if these origins are pagan, religious or extraterrestrial. It is time to celebrate and be festive, full stop.

Most of us, whether we like it or not, are caught up in some way or the other with the occasion and all its accompanying cultural impacts. If we are not religious or we are not Christian, or even if we are Christian but don’t agree in the way the festivals are observed, we somehow are affected by the impact the celebrations make on society.

We adore the lights usually put out at this time, taking time to pass by buildings, homes, parks that are adorned with them and other paraphernalia associated with Christmas. We marvel at the new things available on the market and we somehow are caught up in the many treats that come with celebrations. Or we take advantage of the increased business opportunities. Such is human nature.

Capitalism and commercialization have certainly impacted heavily on religious festivals. And the reality is like being between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, persons want to celebrate their festivals while on the other, these same persons are dependent on the income that can be attained from the increased economic activity usually associated with the festivals, whether as business people, employees, employers, service providers or whoever.

What we shouldn’t do is lose focus on what is important, what is priority and what is the whole purpose of the festival. In several comical takes on the celebration of the Christmas season in Barbados over the years, some singers have highlighted the habits of some who do extraordinary things at this time. Ranging from being greedy to overextending credit to seeking out the ‘Santas’ in their lives.

They have put into double entendre the practices of some Bajans and how they celebrate. Unfortunately, while we see the humour in what is sung, there are several dark realities in these habits. I was sent a link to an interesting article titled “The Demoralized Mind” by John Shumaker. He speaks to “western consumer culture creating a psycho-spiritual crisis that leaves us disoriented and bereft of purpose.” 

In this article, he writes: “Contributing to the confusion is the equally insidious epidemic of demoralization that also afflicts modern culture. Since it shares some symptoms with depression, demoralization tends to be mislabelled and treated as if it were depression. A major reason for the poor 28-per-cent success rate of anti-depressant drugs is that a high percentage of ‘depression’ cases are actually demoralization, a condition unresponsive to drugs.”

He continues: “In the past, our understanding of demoralization was limited to specific extreme situations, such as debilitating physical injury, terminal illness, prisoner-of-war camps, or anti-morale military tactics. But there is also a cultural variety that can express itself more subtly and develop behind the scenes of normal everyday life under pathological cultural conditions such as we have today. This culturally generated demoralization is nearly impossible to avoid for the modern ‘consumer’.

“Rather than a depressive disorder, demoralization is a type of existential disorder associated with the breakdown of a person’s ‘cognitive map’. It is an overarching psycho-spiritual crisis in which victims feel generally disoriented and unable to locate meaning, purpose or sources of need fulfillment. As it is absorbed, consumer culture imposes numerous influences that weaken personality structures, undermine coping and lay the groundwork for eventual demoralization. Its driving features – individualism, materialism, hyper-competition, greed, over-complication, overwork, hurriedness and debt – all correlate negatively with psychological health and/or social wellbeing.”

The article makes good reading but my point in quoting a portion of it is that we have to be very careful that we don’t do the opposite to what really the whole purpose is for observing certain occasions and that a balance should be struck. If not, we can very well be facing the dilemma of many persons having that demoralized mind set.

A video shared several times via WhatsApp showed a person dressed in Christmas apparel speaking to what Christmas is really all about. He went into its history and its disassociation with Christ and also into the economics. He pointed out the billions spent each year on gifts while many millions of people are facing acute poverty, homelessness and malnutrition.

It goes back to finding the right balance. One of the hallmarks of most religious festivals is the practice of sharing and charity. That to me should be the most important part of our celebrations.

Happy Holidays!

Source: (Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association.  Email: suleimanbulbulia@hotmail.com)

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