Christmas time is here again.
We sing and dance, and shop and feast and drink to super-saturation, and leaving worrying about the cost to January when we go back to normal and common sense hits after overspending.
It’s that time of the year when some people suddenly have a taste for champagne on a beer budget. Same trouble, different day.
Commercialism runs riot. Every musician releases an album and holds gigs in time for Christmas.
Every shop has a promotion. It’s cross-cultural and even cross-religious as some non-Christian communities across the world celebrate it in one form or another.
Even though Christmas started off as a pagan festival and the date doesn’t coincide with the birth of Jesus, it is a blessing of sorts that it is celebrated at year end for mainly two reasons.
The first being that were it celebrated much earlier, the rest of the year would have an anti-climactic feel to it because nothing on the calendar comes bigger than Christmas. The year would be over before it’s over.
Christmas, thus, has a closing effect on the year.
For the other reason, I quote a perspicacious observer.
“December to January is a time when nature turns on us for some reason,” says the sage, referring to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which killed over 300 000 people and other natural disasters which have hit during the festive season.
“But it is not just nature but man who is pushing the limits with parties, alcohol and stress.” So if we have to have these man-made disasters they might as well be concentrated in those two months which end and open the year.
But Zimbabweans can’t be denied their fun or some over-indulgence this time around after the horrors of 2008 which was festive only in name.
2008 was the bleakest Christmas for Zimbabweans, my family included. The economy had become a bribe economy and those not in a position to demand and/or pay bribes were completely out of the picture, were sidelined, and that applied to the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans.
Many people spent the entire Christmas period camped outside ATMs in expectation of money which never came. Reserve Bank staffers, commercial bank employees and those connected to them made a killing. For the first time, I didn’t even receive a single Christmas card, and I didn’t miss one.
Poverty and deprivation equalises.
As the situation deteriorated fast, fewer and fewer people could pull strings. People from such upmarket suburbs as Borrowdale drove into the slum of Epworth to buy basics like bread which were being diverted there by shop owners and their staff to evade price controls. Harare turned to Epworth, of all places.
Suddenly, rural people were better off as they could barter their chickens and goats while urbanites who depended solely on the fast-deteriorating Zim dollar faced dire times.
The economic distortions were just unbelievable. Foodstuffs were coming from the opposite way as rural folks sent loads of grain, groundnuts etc to feed their starving urban kith and kin who previously remitted money and other goodies to them.
We do need each other to a lesser or greater extent. Rural people rose to the occasion and gave people a bit of Christmas cheer. So rural areas can no more be referred to as desolate outbacks. There are synergies and there is a symbiosis between rural and urban areas.
Poverty and high unemployment are signs of a malaise which a responsive, democratic government cannot and will not ignore; the whole country was mired in a deep malaise, a general sense of depression and unease.
Two years later, this utter hopelessness enveloping Zimbabwe has lifted. After that nightmarish year, people are now living a normal existence or are coming near to that. It is pleasing that the true Christmas spirit is back on the streets and in homes, but there are many unfortunate others who cannot enjoy Christmas.
Many people, particularly the old, suffer depression with some going to the extent of committing suicide because of loneliness over Christmas.
When children and family turn away from them, it becomes too much to bear. The day itself has such significance and holds so much expectation that all our senses are tuned in to it, but when it fizzles out many people cannot take it anymore.
Because they are off the limelight and languish in isolation, silence and infirmity, the problem tends to be understated and goes unreported. Research has shown that sudden deterioration of health brought on by despair and depression and suicide among the elderly rise over the festive period.
So in this season of goodwill we all have an obligation to remember the old and the poor particularly tomorrow because, above every other day, it can be the worst for the lonely and neglected.
After the economy was destroyed by some of the most misguided policies ever to be conceived on this planet, pensioners and retirees were thrown into abject poverty, so those fortunate to be in gainful employment should think of those not so fortunate among their kith and kin.
Also in the spirit of this season of goodwill we ought to take stock of ourselves as a nation. Let’s go back in history.
The Christmas Truce was a series of unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western front around Christmas of 1914, during the First World War (1914-1918).
Through the week leading to Christmas, groups of warring German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasions, the tension was reduced to the point that individual soldiers would walk across to their opposite numbers bearing gifts.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides independently ventured into the no-man’s land, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as holding joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing and, famously, games of football.
The truce has become one of the most enduring popular images of the war, often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amid one of the most violent events of modern history.
A soldier who served throughout the war wrote: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. . . I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket.
I then gave him two of mine in exchange . . . The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civilian life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche (a disparaging term for a German soldier but in this instance used good-humouredly), who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.”
The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but not to the extent seen in 1914. This was, in part, due to strongly-worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternisation.
Let’s reach across to each other and disregard those politicians who play us off against each other, who live far from the mayhem they create, whose children did not miss a single day of school in 2008 because their teachers were not hounded out by bands of political thugs.
It’s most imperative to do that as we step into 2011 with elections on the horizon but the spectre of the bloody madness of the 2008 elections still fresh in people’s minds and an unrepentant Jabulani Sibanda brazenly leading another campaign to cow rural people into supporting Zanu PF. We must avoid another man-made disaster.
Should we obey unlawful instructions? It’s high time people said enough is enough.
Merry Christmas to you all!