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Christmas – reclaiming the message

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This weekend, most Vincentians will engage in activities of one type or another, as we celebrate the climax of the Christmas festival.

We make a big song and dance about being a “Christian community”, so one would only logically expect that the festival marking the birth of Jesus Christ would occupy first place in our calendar. During our commemoration and celebrations, it would be good for us to remember that among us, there are persons of other religious faiths and beliefs for whom the December 25 date is not the centrepiece of their annual existence.{{more}} We have communities of Muslims and Rastafarians for instance, and it is important that just as we wish all others to respect our Christian beliefs, so too we must accord respect to the beliefs of others.

Our world of today is one where respect for the views of others is increasingly being undermined. Intolerance of one sort or another, including religious intolerance, is gaining ascendancy and hate and violence surround us. It is therefore quite opportune for us to make use of the Christmas season to imbibe and spread the fundamental messages of peace, love and brotherhood, which the birth of Christ signifies. “Peace on earth, goodwill to men (and women)”, is glibly recited, if not always practised.

Admittedly, this is becoming harder and harder to find expression in the global situation of today. There are those, of differing beliefs, who use religious differences as excuses to perpetrate all kinds of crimes in the name of religion. Our minds would go immediately to the religious fanatics who sully the name of the great religion of Islam to carry out the most heinous crimes, as personified by the fanatics of ISIS and their followers. But there are those on the other side too, who use the acts of terrorists to themselves trample on the human rights of others, lumping innocent and guilty, denying genuine refugees from war and suffering the welcoming arms of humanity and even justifying torture, such as in the infamous “waterboarding” carried out in Guantanamo in Cuba.

We here in St Vincent and the Grenadines have had a most testing year, a year in which our tribulations from the effects of climate change continue to plague us all, but one in which human activities of a different type, have resulted in a frightening increase in murders. As we pray this weekend, no doubt there will be a heavy focus on this aspect of our society, particularly because there is no solution in sight. How then does Christmas relate to, or contribute to the finding of solutions to our grave social ills?

Many of the violent deaths that we have had to endure have their roots in deeper social ills. For instance, it has been openly said in some quarters that many of the murders had roots in illegal transactions. The illegal drug trade, very prevalent throughout the Caribbean today, is blamed as one such source. But is it the drug trade or is it greed, the thirst for riches at all costs and with it social respectability, however grudgingly given, that is at the core of all this?

That greed is not only manifested in the drug trade, robbery and illegal transactions, it is right at the heart of the transformation of the Christmas festival to one where commercialization is king. It is difficult to reconcile the “peace on earth, goodwill….” With the BUY-Must of today. Consume at all costs seems to be the prevailing message, whether you beg, borrow or steal. Imagine we have reached the stage where there are advertisements encouraging us to BORROW MONEY to spend Christmas, even by institutions which were set up to encourage working people to save! Where is Christ in all this?

We need to reflect seriously on all these matters as we exchange our Christmas greetings, attend our church services and engage in family activities. How can we continue to claim to be a “Christian society” when we live amidst such deep political and social division? Will our political leaders again deliver messages of peace and love while fostering the worst political divisions in our history?

Time to go beyond talking the talk and let us walk the walk on the road to respect, love and brotherhood. Healthy competition does not make us enemies.

ENJOY YOUR SEASON!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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