I got a goat for Christmas once. It came with a bottle of wine. I enjoyed drinking the wine but didn’t actually see the goat because it was sent on my behalf to a family who really needed its milk to survive. I thought about the family and the goat while listening to Christmas music in a store yesterday. Wondered if the goat had really made a big difference in their lives, as advertised.
When I was a child, I remember feeling an overwhelming sadness whenever my mother sang Nat King Cole’s The Little Boy that Santa Claus forgot. I remember being baffled about how anyone could not have presents under the tree, when I had so many. Even now, decades later, my heart hurts whenever I hear that song.
The Christmas season is complicated for me. I struggle to reconcile the lavish consumption with the stark realities of the suffering of millions. I can’t seem to connect the dots between the messages of peace, joy and love with the lack of compassion for those unlucky enough to be born in places that are war-torn.
For half my life Christmas was the season of summer, hot days and nights, beach picnics, surfing Santas on gift wrapping paper. The pictures of snow and holly trees on the Christmas cards we received seemed to come from another world. I remember wondering what it must be like to live in such a world, it seemed so peaceful.
Peace was not a concept that had much real word meaning for many of us. We lived in constant anticipation of the next explosion, the next arrest of political activists fighting the Apartheid regime.
Peace has been a much more tangible concept for me since I came to Canada but a month after an election that was in some sense a test of Canadian values, we are faced once again with questions about what kind of Canada we live in.
Days after the horrific attacks in Paris, petitions are circulating calling for the cancellation of the promise of sanctuary for 25 000 people, refugees whose homes had become the sites for daily attacks like the one in Paris, the one in Beirut, the one at Garissa University in Kenya.
I wonder if those signing the petitions are also signing Christmas cards wishing others peace, joy and love at Christmas?
I wonder if they remember the details of the Christmas story: a Middle Eastern man, seeking shelter for his pregnant wife. The story of the many who turned the strangers away, the one who offered sanctuary.
Many Arabs offered sanctuary to Jewish people during the Holocaust, sometimes disguising them as Muslims to take them to safety. Would knowing facts like these help to open the hearts and minds so closed to welcoming refugees?
A Christmas shopping catalogue arrived in my mailbox this week. It’s filled with wonderful images of happy families sitting around in beautiful clothing. The message is that if I buy the clothing, I too will have a happy Christmas.
I’d rather get a goat.