Companionship and commensality

A lot of bread, so to speak, is going to be broken and a lot of drink is going to be consumed this long, Christmas weekend in Guyana. Heaven knows we need some respite from the extreme political tensions of the elections and their immediate aftermath. So, let companionship, good will and good cheer prevail, even as the stress of last minute Christmas shopping, cooking, cleaning and other seasonal demands builds.

We Guyanese generally love the Christmas season and there is a special poignancy about family reunions when so many of us have been scattered around the globe. At home and abroad, most of us will vouch that there isn’t anything in the world like a Guyanese Christmas. Wherever we are, we want our family and friends close to us to taste the special richness of our multifaceted and multi-flavoured cuisine and to share in the wealth of our cultural traditions, all of which – food, drink, song, dance, laughter and yes, the odd argument and a few tears – makes us who and what we are.

We are, of course, not unlike other nationalities and cultures in locating feasting at the centre of our rituals, Christmas or otherwise. Prayer and sober reflection are, arguably, more nourishing to the soul for the more spiritual amongst us, but in almost every major religious celebration, there is an important place for food, no matter how humble the meal or how exalted the fare. Food is an almost indispensable element of thanksgiving and central to this is sharing.

Commensality – fellowship at table or the act or practice of eating at the same table, according to the Free Online Dictionary – apart from being integral to the world’s cultures and great religions, is a foundation stone of communal living, community building, the development of a common culture and civilised existence. In this respect, the common table at Christmas, as at Eid and Diwali, is an outstanding example of companionship, the key to conviviality and a recurring reminder of our common humanity.

Let us not forget either the etymological origin of the word “companion”, which stems from the Latin “com panis”, meaning “with bread”, thus making a companion someone with whom one literally breaks bread and, by extension, signifying that food can fuel relationships and nurture generosity and friendship, even as it fulfils the more basic role of refuelling the body.

And so, companionship and commensality are the very cornerstones of human society, reminding us of our commonality, promoting and strengthening bonds of friendship and kinship, sharing and co-existence, with, more often than not, added by-products such as good manners, the art of conversation, physical and spiritual contentment, and a warm glow that, if only temporarily, shields us from existential angst and fears of what the future might hold in store for us.

Here’s a thought. At this critical juncture in our democratic evolution and in this season of good will, what about a grand dinner, hosted by the President or the private sector, and supported by civil society, for all the country’s parliamentarians, regional councillors and leading politicians to break bread together, with one proviso – that there be no talk of politics. Let them sit at the same table and swap stories and jokes, recalling where they have come from and the interests they shared growing up. Let them remember their family ties and mutual connections in neighbourhoods and villages, through religion, schooldays and the workplace. And let them, in the spirit of companionship and commensality, see that we are not so different from each other, that we have common dreams as people, common aspirations as citizens and can live together and forge a common vision as Guyanese, all rooted in our common humanity.

Idealistic? Most definitely. Worth a try? Why not? After all, such an event would not be an end in itself, but rather a new beginning and something that could become an annual fixture for renewal and recalibration and an annual celebration of our commonality.

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