Putting Christ back in Christmas
Year after year, in the midst of the Christmas rush, we search for the elusive “true meaning of Christmas”. When things begin to get Christmassy, we are constantly reminded to “keep things simple”, to remember the Child around whom all these celebrations are centred.“Christmas is for family; love, friendship, caring and giving are the values that make the season special for me,” says Deloraine Brohier, former President of the Dutch Burgher Union (DBU).
Christmas at the Brohiers was most often spent in the outstations. The excitement in the household would be almost tangible as the family gathered round large crates of Christmas goodies ordered from Colombo. Everyone had a hand in mixing the Christmas cake, the pudding and the breudher.
Practices such as these are almost unheard of now, where people simply buy their Christmas cake, pudding and breudher for the sake of convenience.
|Deloraine and her father R.L. Brohier
Christmas is obviously not all about eating, but the preparation of Christmas delicacies was special for another reason. “ It really got the whole family together; it was something we could all have fun doing. We didn’t have anything like the appliances used now; and in the case of the breudher, everything was mixed by hand. When one person got tired, someone else would take over,” recalled Ms. Brohier. “Every aspect of the Christmas celebration was extremely family and community oriented; it made everyone feel appreciated.”
Christmas visits paid to friends and neighbours, are also a fast dying Sri Lankan Christmas tradition. “This I feel was part of the Sri Lankan ethos. I am not sure why this tradition died out, but from my experience, I have seen that the world stresses so much on individualism now, all that is important is wealth and individual accomplishments,” says Fr. Neil, the Parish Priest of St. Theresa’s Church, Thimbirigasyaya, adding that Christmas visiting brought about togetherness, something that is rarely witnessed today.
“One thing that was always associated with Christmas was the games of charades we used to play at a Christmas get-together,” reminisced Ms. Brohier. “This was a common thing then, but it is an obsolete tradition now. Charades made a Christmas gathering fun for adults and children alike. I feel that this is a tradition which could and should be renewed.”
Carolling used to be a common sight some years back, but now that is also on the decline. “There was a time when the parish had at least 8-10 carolling groups, but now we have around two. In general, the response they get from the community is not altogether positive. People don’t really trust others any more, and usually close their doors to carolling groups. So some of these groups have been compelled to ask households if they want to listen to carols, rather than face the embarrassment of being shut out,” says Fr. Neil.
Typical greetings of the season are exchanged almost every day now, and a common sight on shop windows and greeting cards is the phrase “Merry X-mas”. Where did this come from? A mathematical symbol has been substituted for Jesus Christ, taking out the true meaning of Christmas. “ Merry Christmas’ actually originated from a greeting that was used maybe over a hundred years ago, and that was ‘Mary Christmas’,” explained Fr. Neil. “ The significance of this greeting lay in the fact that people wanted to convey to others the joy that the Virgin Mary would have felt in giving birth to the Saviour of mankind.”
Those who have witnessed the traditional Sri Lankan Christmas, feel that many social changes have taken place. There are so many families who have loved ones overseas, and those who remain in Sri Lanka sometimes don’t find it worthwhile to celebrate Christmas with all the trimmings.“Christmas today is an orgy of senseless spending, where people go into this insane frenzy of taking all the meaning out of a very special season. It is very sad to see what Christmas has evolved into,” says Ms. Brohier.
Many blame the urbanized Colombo society for the commercialization of Christmas. While Christmas in the city is celebrated by way of expensive parties and grand celebrations, the picture we see in a village is quite different. The most important aspect of the celebration would be the holy mass, after which there would be celebrations, but not those which deviate from the real meaning of the season.
Ms. Brohier recalled the simplicity of the rural festivities where women, wearing veils and carrying candles, would make their way to church. In the modern context, not much has changed in these areas, and she expressed indignation that Colombo society had grown to be so materialistic.
It has now come to be a clichéd phrase, but the need to rediscover and celebrate Christ in Christmas cannot be overstated. “One nice thing I have seen is that many parents bring their children to the crib. They try to focus on the child, and that is a really nice thing. I have even seen, for example, a Buddhist father bringing his Catholic child to a crib, and trying, as best as he could, to explain the meaning and significance of the nativity scene,” said Fr. Neil.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle of Christmas we need to remember the cold, bleak, winter’s night on which the only refuge for the Son of God was a cattle shed, the joy of the poor shepherds-first witnesses to the birth of their Saviour, and the angels who heralded the good news to all mankind; the good news that we still celebrate on Christmas Day.