What is the meaning of Christmas? Asking that question is almost as bad as asking someone the meaning of life. There are so many possibilities that it is almost impossible to write on the meaning of Christmas in one concise article. I have come to the conclusion that Christmas is a time of contrasts and contradictions… let me explain what I mean.
For Christians, Christmas is the time when the birth of Jesus Christ is commemorated and celebrated. These persons take the time to reflect on the Saviour of the world coming to earth in human form and starting his journey of redemption. In contrast, there is another group of persons who choose not to celebrate Christmas for religious reasons. The date of December 25th for some sects is not coincident with the other Bible events and Jesus could not have been born at that time. Others postulate that the Christmas story is a hoax and choose not to get involved in celebrations.
For those who choose to celebrate, the celebrations carried out are wide and varied. By October, some of my friends have already sorted their colour scheme for Christmas tree decorations and the décor of the house has already been detailed with SWAT team precision. In other homes, there must be new curtains, rugs and appliances or else there is no Christmas. There are still those who wash down the outside of the house and repaint those places which would have faded in the sun’s heat. And, of course, the outside of the house must look as good as the inside, so weeding, lawn mowing and hedge trimming have got to be on the ‘to do’ list.
In opposition are those who do absolutely nothing with respect to decorating their homes for Christmas. The curtains at Easter are the same ones adorning the windows come Christmas and there is not one piece of tinsel or pine in a one-mile radius of that home for several reasons. These persons choose to carry on life as though it was just another ordinary day of the week, except for the fact that it is a public holiday.
In the same way some of my friends plan their decorations with razor sharp precision, the Christmas meal is strategized. It is not Christmas in some homes unless there is a ham, turkey, rice and peas, macaroni pie, sweet potato pie, coleslaw, potato salad, jug jug, at the bare minimum, in addition to a million and one types of bread and cakes and an overflow of drinks. At another table, it is a simple meal, perhaps as simple as biscuits and cheese and a cup of tea.
Some homes are filled with the sounds of the laughter of friends and family celebrating each other’s company as opposed to the quiet that fills the rooms of another home. Christmas brings one group of persons excitement and fun whilst the same season brings another group no end of heartache and sorrow.
It is unfortunate and some people would dare say cruel that at this festive time of the year, persons experience loss. Loved ones die, persons lose their jobs or perhaps they lose their independence because of illness or age. It is incumbent upon those of us who have not suffered significant loss at this time of year, to be sensitive to those who have.
How can we be more sensitive to those who are grieving for whatever reason during this yuletide season? Try a little empathy. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another individual is feeling from within their frame of reference, that is, the ability to place oneself in another’s position. Although it sounds easy, it really is not a simple task for most persons.
There are some individuals who seem to have an inherent ability to sense the needs of others and be able to say or do the right thing at the exact moment it is needed. For most of us, it is a skill that needs to be practiced and practiced until we get it right. For those who are grieving, whilst we might think that they should ‘get over it’ and ‘stop crying so much’, empathy dictates that we allow those persons to express themselves in whatever way they need to in order to heal. We support them in whatever way we can and if we are unable to, we put things in place to facilitate the healing process.
We have a saying here in Barbados, ‘If you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing at all’. And sometimes all persons who are bereaved want is that simple human touch such as a hug, a pat or a shoulder to cry on. They do not need us to spout trite phrases about everything being ok, or things getting better. Perhaps we could cook a meal, or do some housework for that individual.
This time of the year can be the start of pouring into the life of that elderly person who lives alone or someone who is terminally ill by spending some time with them and helping them to live out their last days in happiness and comfort. It is always said that Christmas is the season of giving so I do believe that the best gift we can give others this year, is the gift of ourselves.
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)