When I write about an issue that I feel particularly strongly about, my natural inclination is to use words as rocks that I would hurl at the imaginary glass pane between myself and the reader and render it into shards. Then I have to remind myself that a heavy-handed approach would only alienate the reader, so I back off and attempt to use less extreme language and imagery. This is the approach that I attempted when I wrote about Christmas, although perhaps not entirely successfully.
Christmas-time is a period of celebration, of catching up with family and friends and for exchanging Christmas cards and gifts. It is a time for having fun, for eating and drinking. Call me a party pooper if you wish, but I must confess that I find it hard to engage enthusiastically with all these joyous festivities and celebration.
The thing that brings me unstuck is the sheer excess of it all. The shops are bursting at their seams with consumer goods and the cost of the Christmas decorations alone could feed an army of homeless people. Hordes of desperate people shoal around the shops looking for presents that most of the would-be recipients do not need and that many would not really want.
Here in Australia presents are unwrapped. There are expensive toys like hoverboards, bicycles and electronic gadgets for the children and DVD box sets, clothes and much more for the adults. Meanwhile, in Kgubetswana, a small settlement down the road from the rural town of Clarens in South Africa, a Christmas Party was held for 150 less privileged children.
“As we get into the spirit of giving and sharing with our loved ones, we must reflect on how privileged we are to be surrounded by our precious family and friends. We need to remind ourselves that there are little children who are affected by HIV, who do not have a Mom and a Dad to love and feel loved by and this time of the year is a sad and desolate time for them. We cannot fill this void but we can ease their sadness by showering them with gifts and a fun filled day,” said Ntsebe Mofokeng, Director of Phaphama Youth Development.
“We took it upon us to replace the brick that the little boy is pushing as a toy car and to give a gift to the little girl whose eyes are shining bright and who made her doll out of ragged cloths.
One couldn’t contain one’s joy at seeing the excitement on the children’s faces. They were glowing with joy and they kept on singing and dancing as a celebration of the precious gifts they received.”
Manana, one of the beneficiaries, said that it was her first time receiving such a wonderful present. She said she will treasure it for a very long time. “I can’t wait to show my friends that now I have the same doll as theirs.”
Back in Australia there is the Christmas meal. There is such an abundance of food that much is left over, even after everyone had eaten far more than they usually would. I cannot help thinking of my friend Suenel’s recent email, sent from the small rural town of McGregor in South Africa:
“I am back in the Kindergarden at the Waldorf school and a new little girl wept bitter tears today – she was terrified of the flush lavatory as she had never experienced one before. We give them porridge as they arrive because some pass out from hunger. It wipes me out that the bigger ones always immediately give some of their food to the smaller ones.”
My mind also reaches back to the image of a homeless man that I saw in Cape Town earlier this year. As he was walking down the street he spotted a discarded mango peel on the ground. He picked it up and chewed at the remaining strands of fruit inside the skin, before throwing it away and striding purposefully to a nearby rubbish bin for something else to scavenge.
For the sake of my family and friends I play my part in the Christmas ritual every year without giving voice to my angst. I participate in the sending of Christmas cards and in the giving and receiving of presents. I drink a glass of champagne and load my plate with Christmas turkey, roast potatoes, green beans and carrots. I wear the paper hat from the Christmas cracker and read out the silly joke that comes with the cracker. Then I have some Christmas pudding and a slice of pavlova.
I do not wish to cast a pall over others’ enjoyment of the Festive Season. But, deep down, I sometimes struggle to contain my tears.