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 Global Perspective

December 18, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 37

Virginia Saldanha
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.



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.

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.

Other Global Perspectives by Virginia Saldanha
Oct. 8, 2003 The Mumbai Bomb blasts -- a different face
Aug. 6, 2003 Remembering the past commits us to the future
June 11, 2003 Women cannot stand by and watch life destroyed
Apr. 23, 2003 Fundamentalists are not rooted in the truth of their religions
I realized that the market had a big stake in the "celebration" of Christmas. Christmas gift giving has turned into the biggest market booster in our time.

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.

They would have been able to see through the evil intentions of the tyrant Herod and they would have escorted the newborn to a safe haven. They would have filed charges against Herod for child abuse and organised a non-violent rally. But the men, they brought unusable gold, and the inedible incense and myrrh. So impractical.

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.

Looking for alternative Christmas gifts?
NCR managing editor Pat Morrison addresses that topic in her Today's Take columns:

Dec. 18: Gifts for a better world
              (no batteries needed)

Dec. 17: Go ahead, get Uncle Edgar's

I ask myself how we can use the Christmas event to bring peace and goodwill to our earth that is shaken each day by military bombings and retaliatory terrorist bomb blasts. A world where the powerful exploit the weak; a world where violence has become an accepted means of entertainment; a world where love means sex, peace is a word used in road maps that lead nowhere and goodwill (in my country) refers to the money paid as bribe. How do we recapture the beauty of these words and make them work to bring about the reign of God, where peace, love and justice flourish?

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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