The Independent Newsweekly
|December 18, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 37
Virginia Saldanha is a woman activist working in India for the empowerment of women through Church institutions as well as networking with secular organizations in the struggle for justice and peace.
Can we spread true peace at Christmas?
By Virginia Saldanha
MUMBAI, India -- When I was in the Philippines at the end of September, some years ago, I was surprised to find the malls and even some streets all dressed up for Christmas. In my country, India, we do not see shop windows dressed up until a couple of weeks before Christmas, and these are generally a few limited to areas populated by Christians.
We often trace our tradition of gift giving at Christmas to the gift giving of the three wise men. With the advent of the "Coca-Cola Santa Claus," however, gift giving has taken on a more consumerist taint. Each year, economists draw up forecasts of profits for the Christmas or "holiday" season. The ad industry works hard to lure buyers to purchase all kinds of gifts, from toys to cars to real estate (depending on the size of their purse), for their loved ones.
What about those who do not have money for gifts? What does gift giving mean to them? It is said that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Are some people denied the joys of gift giving because of their inability to buy gifts? I do not think so, because we can conceive of gifts that are above and beyond the market.
Last year there was an interesting anecdote circulating on the Internet around Christmas. It asked, "What if the three wise men were women?" The author went on to answer the question:
If they were women, they would have brought cooked food, clean diapers, and the skills of a midwife. They would have cleaned the stable, prepared a meal, shoved the animals out of the way and given sound advice about childcare.
I think the story of the three wise women suggests what gifts can really be -- loving service, an offer of help or something that meets a special need. Such gifts require little or no monetary expense from the giver, but have great value for the recipient. Such gifts bring joy, spread love and strengthen family and community ties. They carry with them the message of Christmas.
It is sad that we often attach such importance to the cost of the gifts we give, and such little value to the love and thought that should be central to gift giving. Expensive presents given to children at Christmas pass on the message that the money spent on gifts has to match the "love" with which they are given. I remember seeing a child open his gift at Christmas and fling it back at his parents because it was not what he asked "Santa" for.
Maybe we have to replace the "Santa" image with the Christ image to send out the true meaning of our giving. Christmas proclaims a strong message of peace and goodwill. Our gifts should be able to pass on this message. I sometimes wonder how toys of war, like guns, tanks and swords, can give children the message of peace.
I wonder if it is wishful thinking to dream that God's reign would be a reality if every person who bears the name Christian did really follow Christ, asking, "If Jesus were in my place, what would he do?"
I wish each person a happy Christmas blessed with peace and goodwill. I hope that, through our greetings and gifts, we pass on this message of love, joy and peace.
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