Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A gift of giving, an act of taking

Christmas celebrations provide us an opportunity to enjoy family and friends with a feast of sharing, whether big or small. Christians across the globe come together to honour the birthday of a new beginning, and although to many the spiritual aspects are still important, a more modern, cross-secular trait has slowly crept across the traditions of Christmas.

Two symbols of Christmas have become synonymous with December 25th. First of all the man in red, Santa, with his bag of gifts. Whether we await his arrival through the chimney, or simply the promise and high expectation that our parents will act on his behalf, brightly decorated gifts are still the most anticipated joy of many. Along with Santa, the Christmas Tree has become an absolute prerequisite of celebrations, after all where would Santa leave his treasures if not under the decorated tree.

The Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany with its predecessors traced back to the 16th and 15th centuries. It acquired popularity outside of Germany during the second half of the 19th century. Queen Victoria of England, who visited family in Germany regularly, first was drawn to the charms of the decorated evergreen. As she also fell under the charms of Prince Albert, later marrying him, the decorated tree was to find its way across the ocean to England. Canada was first introduced to this decorative tradition in the winter of 1781 by Brunswick soldiers stationed in the Province of Quebec, on guard against a possible invasion by American troops.

Although the Germans can lay rightful claim to have introduced the modern version of this venerable symbol of Christmas, and of the magnificently crafted colourful glass ornaments, the worship of the evergreen dates even further back into history. Egyptians brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life's triumph over death at the beginning of the winter solstice. Early Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a festival called Saturalia, and gave coins for prosperity, feasts for happiness, and lamps to light one's journey through life. Later in the 1960's the Americans found a new tradition, the Aluminum Tree, the creation of Kwanzaa by Maulana Karenga, and along the way threw out all the beautiful and elaborate German glass tree ornaments.

To many Christmas means a multitude of things. Children of all ages think of gifts and the glitter of the decorated trees, even aluminum ones. Those who value the spiritual aspect commemorate the birth of Christ and hold on to the values of His teachings. Retailers see this as a chance to balance their books and continue on another year. Few think past this, few think of the taking that has continued for as long as the traditions have.

One of the greatest economies of the world is still suffering and many Americans do not have enough to feed their families. A shocking visual example came with employees of Walmart asking for donations to sustain their own families. Poverty is not a new plague or a symptom of a troubled world economy. Lands in Africa, Asia and India have lived with this issue for centuries. In Canada donations to registered charities keep decreasing, whether it is the fact that Canadians have less money at their disposal or that they have lost some trust in these organisations is debatable. Still the decrease is notable. Food banks, the first line of defense for the poor or the struggling are facing empty shelves. Many in our modern society are finding it difficult to simply provide the basic needs for themselves. Yet that is not the whole story, so to speak.

For decades we as a combined humanity have taken from our planet without thought of the consequences. Those who sit on thrones of power, whether in the West or the East, think little other than to retain that power. Corporations not only pull the proverbial strings of power, they in fact control it as a whole. As a species, humanity sadly understands taking more than giving. Recent news that Mexico will increase its crude oil production to new highs, competing with Canada's oil sands, can only raise serious new concerns for our combined future. At the same time the US is predicting to increase its own oil output to hit near record highs by 2016. Yet environmentalists are still playing at a game where they applaud the Obama government on stalling the Keystone Pipeline. Is there any credibility in the major environmentalists when the US, under Obama's control is working at such a huge increase in oil production? It is true that we have no real or viable alternatives to oil and its end use? Under such a massive cloud of potential profit it is not likely an effort will be made to develop one either.

As we celebrate this season of joy with our families and friends we may think of the disadvantaged and drop a bag of donated groceries to a food bank. Some of us will go a little further and give more to charities struggling with what seems an eternal human malady. Yet how many understand that each and every one of us, from the most affluent to the poorest, are in fact the disadvantaged. The rich could not even come close to understand such a preposterous concept, and the poor too poor to think about it. How then do we heal the gradual crack that is slowly, ever so slowly, becoming wider in our home, our planet?

It is not pessimism that gives rise to such a question, but realism. It is not a lack of joy but rather for the sake of joy that this question must be asked loudly. Christmas is a celebration of togetherness, only let's not drop our precious ornament to the ground and watch it shatter.

A Merry and Joyous Christmas to all our readers and a hope of many more to come.

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