Elmo Jayawardena whose chosen title is “Christmas Beneath the Corona Cloud”
Fizzled out Christmases are nothing new in Sri Lanka or for that matter in the entire world. Many of us have seen the full blast of a poverty Christmas or a war revenged Christmas. Of course, they came in different waves, but good enough to drown us in wallowing pity for the sheer lack of money to celebrate. Children were the most effected in this yuletide crossroad. The ‘Haves” had the festivity and flamboyance of everything whilst the ‘Have Nots’ wrote meaningless letters to Santa Claus asking for the moon. It is the ‘Have Nots’ who heard other people’s carols and crackers and watched neighborhood skyrockets screeching up to blast and flower-shower the midnight sky. This is a familiar cruelty of celebrating Christmas.
The 2020 festive season somehow appears quite different. The change of season will be the same with the cold winds blowing to announce the coming of Christmas. I was at a shopping mall recently and noticed how empty everything was. The uniformed staff hung around the show cases waiting for customers who didn’t seem to be coming. The usual pipe music had vanished, no Jingle Bells or reindeer Rudolphs to make sure Santa Claus is coming to town. Even the all too familiar red and white Christmassy caps that the salesgirls wore had gone missing. The ‘Haves’ still had it, but the mood has been burnt to cinders. It sure looked crystal clear that Corona had levelled the playing field for all to sulk and sigh in frustration. Whether you are rich or poor there is no Christmas this year to be celebrated as we did in the years gone by. It is a whole new ball game, totally coronafied from the crust to the core. The only way we can counter that is by having a sharing Christmas, a giving Christmas and give some real meaning by uplifting those who cannot afford a Christmas.
Let’s be realistic. Whatever the form of celebration we are thinking of, better make sure it is limited and confined within the walls of our homes. That is the best way to be safe and that will be what the health authorities want done to keep Corona at bay. Of course, with all these actions of following the laid down rules and hiding in your house is our contribution to stem the spread of Corona. Rules are there but that does not apply to all and sundry across the board. Isn’t it a fact that ‘kissing goes by favour? I’d rather keep that part out and simmer my impotent anger on the rights and wrongs of applying rules. What’s good for the goose may not be unto.
Already the pre-Christmas frolicking is cancelled. The post-Christmas partying is in the doldrums. The thousands that flew in crossing continents to be with loved ones for the December holidays are not coming. The two-week quarantine on arrival alone is a major deterrent. The flights are drastically reduced, and the airports too are almost empty. The once majestic jet aeroplanes that came sardine packed with revelers are not in the sky. They are ghost like creatures today gathering dust in aviation graveyards. No solution except to celebrate Christmas with loved ones on zoom or facetime. People still fight on to bring some cheer and brighten the spirits by erecting their Christmas tree at home. Small mercies no doubt, but it is better than no mercies. Kids still can be made to believe that the ‘Ho Ho Man’ will climb-down the chimney or creep through a window and leave his gifts beneath the tree. I presume that is one of the few things of the ‘bucket list’ that will survive the 2020 Christmas.
Let’s look at the shopping scene. Making list and buying gifts for everyone who had got into your favoured list is a major mind-boggling exercise. If you are poor, you don’t have that problem. Never mind others you don’t have money to buy anything for your own family. It is only the ‘Haves’ who celebrate Christmas giving gifts. If not a ‘Have’ one must at least be a ‘semi-Have’ to join this shopping and gifting parade. The romance of Christmas has always been a privilege of the rich. You never see the ‘Have Nots’ sitting at Cinnamon Grand Coffee Shop and munching chicken pies or even at a Pizza Hut starring at menu cards. Theirs is the Christmas of the poor, just scrambling whatever they can to light up a kid’s face who is bewildered why Santa Claus never came to his home with train sets and what not. 2020 is sure going to be different. Corona has taken care of that. ‘Have’ or ‘Have Not’ the syllabus will be the same, stuck at home in a mood to match a funeral, no visiting or visitors, and no way out till the vaccine reaches you.
Taking a peep at that wondrous week from Christmas to the New Year, things do look bleak even to the die-hard optimist. With social distancing and very few gatherings, the choices will be limited or non-existent. Yes, you can hire Tasty Caterers or Chariot and have a party. But who will come? Then there are the traditional family get-togethers that are a ‘must part’ of the Christmas season. The annual Perera Clan Party or Fernando or Dias party that had been in existence from the days of the great grandparents? These are always meticulously organized and the host rotated with regimental precision. They are all gone with the wind for 2020. Cannot even plan as no one knows where the next cluster will surface and how quickly a lockdown or a curfew will be imposed. With all these Corona related serious problems facing us, it might be better to stay home and stare at the Christmas tree. Of course, can fix some blinking lights too and hang an angel or two to add more colour.
As I write this on the 12th of December the prognosis does not seem comfortable leading up to the New Year. The daily Corona infected counts are quite high and they seem to be remaining high. The authority’s advice is for us to stay home as much as possible to avoid an unfacilitated contact with a Corona patient. Christmas or no Christmas, it is wise to be safe in self isolation. Maybe that’s what we all should do.
As for the celebration it would be a blessing to take a ‘time out’ and ponder what this Christmas is all about? It is the birthday of Jesus Christ. We count the days for it to dawn to have a fantastic time. We buy gifts for all our loved ones, invite them to dine and wine and make merry to celebrate the birthday.
Then what about the Birthday Boy? Shouldn’t he too be included and gifted for his own birthday?
That is the answer for the Corona misery. The ‘Have Nots’ are all around us. We who may have been able to live above the poverty line as the ‘Haves’ are blessed. Even in some small way we must try to take the celebration to those in need, the multitude of ‘Have Nots’ around us. It is the thought that matters and the act of kindness will spread beyond your imagination. No church to go to and no people to invite for the grand Christmas lunch. Just change the play and go looking for the poor. New Year’s Eve will come, and the bands will be silent, dance floors are sure to be empty, but the poor are there, in every corner of where you live. Give them a gift or some food or anything that they don’t have. Just watch the glint in their eyes and the smiles on their faces. That would be a real celebration of Christmas. Pick a street kid or two and take them to ARPICO and let them push a trolley and pick things they dream about – some chocolate biscuits, maybe a sultana cake or a water pistol and a tennis ball. Anything is manna from heaven to a ‘Have Not” kid.
Corona will not and cannot stop the joy you feel of sharing.
Our collective kindness is sure to make so many happy. Without a doubt, it is us who will be the ultimate winners. Look for the Birthday Boy. He will be loitering aimlessly in the streets or lying down in a gutter in some slum. That is the one who’s birthday we are celebrating.
Go find him among the poor. You will certainly be celebrating this Corona Christmas.
Capt Elmo Jayawardena