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Raffique Shah


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Trini Christmas is cultural, not religious

December 25, 2005
By Raffique Shah

IT'S Christmas Day and most Trinis will have hardly read-or if they did, heeded my calls-my previous columns in which I called for restraint in spending. I know my people only too well: Christmas comes but once a year and every man must have his share. So new curtains (that, really, you did not need), refrigerators crammed with meats and goodies (and Andrews stacked nearby just in case!), liquor by the bottle or case, over-indulgence being the theme of the "holiday season". I cannot fault people who have kept this tradition alive, whatever our economic circumstances. In fact, Christmas for us has become more of a cultural affair than a religious one. And one does not mess with Trinis engaging in merriment, whatever the occasion, and least of all at Christmas.

So I shan't be a killjoy by raining on the people's parade, advising them to go easy on the grog, on the food, on the festive atmosphere that prevails at this time of the year. I have long held, though, that Christmas is really a time for children to have fun, to make merry, to believe that there is a Santa Claus who brings them toys and goodies. Indeed, when I was a boy, I couldn't wait for the festive season. It meant for us, poor though we were, a few slices of the half-dozen apples my father would buy, sponge cake that my mother would bake in the "barrel-oven" and dates, prunes and sweets as well. It meant, too, cheap toys that Pa could afford, even as the better-off children would walk through the village, shiny, holstered toy guns at their sides, cowboy hats on their heads. We'd envy them, my siblings and I, since we had to settle for much less. But then our parents had taught us to be content with what we had, with what they could afford.

For these reasons and more, long after I grew up and learned that what we call Christmas was actually a pagan festival that pre-dated Christianity, I never shunned the festival. By then I had parted ways with religion, but culture I understood. And I recognised that Christmas in this country was much like Carnival, the only difference being that the "bands" on the roads were fewer and smaller. And since in my younger days I was very much a Carnival person, who was I to try to dissuade people from enjoying themselves in whatever way they chose?

Here is where I choose to disagree with some of my friends, be they atheists, agnostics, left-wing revolutionaries, or even those who are steeped in religion to the extent that they believe marking a pagan festival cannot be condoned.

A people's culture comes from many streams, more so in a cosmopolitan country like ours where, today, traditional African religions have risen to challenge the dominance of Christianity, where Hinduism has seen a resurgence, where Islam might well be the fastest growing faith if it can surpass the Pentecostals. It all makes for a colourful society in which we agree to disagree without having to resort to preaching hatred or taking up arms against each other.

Blessed we are, indeed. In so many countries elsewhere, people kill others only because of religious differences. Examine how tribal and ethnic diversity has resulted in open warfare, with tens of thousands being slaughtered, the strong taking advantage of the weak. Oh, I do believe that many so-called religious leaders are demons masquerading as priests, pastors, mullahs, gurus and sundry other nomenclatures. But so too were many revolutionaries who committed crimes too heinous to be recounted. From Stalin to Pol Pot, Hoxa to Mao, many were the pogroms committed in the name of uplifting humankind.

Today, if Islamic fundamentalists can be blamed for atrocities committed against "The Great Satan", what of the very Christian politicians and soldiers who slaughter Muslims by the millions, many of them innocent children? We hear of the deaths of all American soldiers stationed-many against their will-in Iraq. But do we get behind the burkas and chadors to see the tears of those who have lost their entire families, their only crime being that they are Muslims?

Do we see the tens of thousands of children stricken with cancer as a result of the Americans using depleted uranium in their assault on Iraq? In fact, do we ever see the tens of thousands of American soldiers who have been permanently maimed, horribly disfigured, through a misadventure sanctioned by the Christian White House and the many Christian demons on pulpits who support the slaughter?

If I am to ask my Trini brethren to take time out from their Christmas celebrations, it is for them to think of these victims of a world gone mad, a world in which might is right. And please don't forget your own, right here in T&T, who may go hungry for yet another day even as you feast, imbibe and parang.