Being around family and friends is always of utmost importance at Christmastime. Also a priority is being at home or close to home. Home and family go hand in hand as the two main ingredients for a happy and joyful Christmas. We are always at home wherever we make home. For many of us, home for the holidays means being away from our home country. There will be many messages at this Christmastime; of hope, joy, peace, love, kindness, mercy and togetherness. All of these coincide with the significance and true meaning of that first Christmas.
Today, the celebration of Christmas has become a universal practice among countless cultures and billions worldwide. Many have found the fundamental principles of Christmas acceptable, meriting its celebration and observance, especially among non-Christians. Guyana is a typical example when you drive around at night to see numerous homes in almost every village, lit and decorated, bathed in lights.
Families sit around their dinner (or breakfast) tables on which can be found pepperpot, ginger beer, black cake, bread, egg nog, turkey, ham, chicken, mashed potatoes ‒ the works! After all the major preparations, shopping around the chaotic commercial hot-spots, it’s time to sit, relax, savour the moment, open presents and enjoy the company of friends and family.
The religious aspect of the holiday is very much alive today too, with Catholics leading the way in their celebrations that start a month before the actual day, with the beginning of the season of Advent. There are novenas, carolling, concerts, parties, outings, and midnight Masses ‒ the hallmarks of a good Catholic celebration of Christmas. The birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem still exists today; a Church altar is built over that area. Often unsung and unheard of are the many works of mercy carried out by the Roman Catholic Church throughout Guyana today, including those performed by the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the St Martin de Porres Society, and the Missionaries of Charity Sisters of Mother Teresa. Various church parishes have numerous outreach missions and works, including tending to the poor and hungry, the forgotten and those marginalised by society. The works of mercy continue well beyond Christmas and are often done silently without much fanfare and recognition, hardly making the six ʼo clock news or the media grind.
In the midst of the busy shopping and preparations, the Church always looks after and remembers the poor, as it always does throughout the year. In New Amsterdam, my parish church performs little yet significant acts of mercy all year round, whether it is giving a daily meal to dozens of outcasts on a daily basis; feeding hungry school children; spreading cheer by singing carols; or promoting wholesome family events ‒ all connecting truly to the Year of Mercy that was called for by Pope Francis I earlier this year. That’s the message of Christmas. Anyone can say anything. Words are cheap, but actions speak volumes. I am proud to be a part of the effort the Church has been undertaking over the past years. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
As Guyana continues to transition under a new political administration, the sweeping changes across the country seen over the past months remind us that life is not always constant. There is finally hope for our beloved Guyana in these more uplifting times. The message of Christmas requires us to stop looking in the past and shed our Grinch-like selves and embrace a more positive outlook on life, both for ourselves and for our country.
And when Christmas is over and gone, remember that peace, joy, love and goodwill must continue.