What are you doing at Christmas? This is a question which often comes with the yuletide season from lovers, spouses, friends, children, parents, family members, social and business associates. It starts as early as three months to Christmas, but gets more frequent as we get nearer Christmas. And the answers can be as varied as the persons asking.
It is only one Christmas, but the answer a man will give his lover is likely to be different from what he will give his mother which in turn will be different from what he will give his business associates. What he will tell his friend in Europe is likely to be different from what he will tell the friend down the road. And when a prospective date asks a girl what she would be doing at Christmas, the answer he gets depends on whether she wants to date him or not. Much like the answer a woman gets from a man who wants to move on.
This emphasises the point that one will almost always be available to the people one likes and unavailable to the people one dislikes. In any case, the question is largely rhetorical, based usually on curiosity than a genuine interest in a person’s availability. And the answers reflect this rhetoric. There are people who will tell you what they will like to do as opposed to what they will actually be doing. There are people who will tell you what they think you want to hear again as opposed to what they will actually be doing.
Then there are those in denial who will paint a picture that they are loved and in demand as against the reality that they will be lucky to get a single phone call on the day. And as someone who has found himself in a police station on a Christmas day trying to bail out a loved one, and on another Christmas, in the home of a close friend commiserating with the wife on his sudden demise, I am aware that the definitive answer to that question is not always ours to give.
But irrespective of the answers we give, it is a given that many people will seek fun, gaiety and time with loved ones on Christmas day. The cinema halls will be full; so will restaurants, night clubs and amusement centres be. Gallons of champagne, spirits and beer as well as tons of assorted food will go down many throats as people across the world try to find their own reason for the season and a meaning for listless, meaningless lives.
Christmas today is a classic example of life imitating art as the whole world puts on a show, albeit fleetingly, of a joyous world. Cities will be glittering; melodious carols will be oozing out from every home, every alley, every street. Christmas is in the air and the world is supposed to breathe in its scented air of freedom, peace, love and goodwill to all men. Except that the reality is different. On one level, it exacerbates the feelings of loneliness, despair, despondency and depression many people have been struggling with during the year. On another level, it numbs us against those who like us, deserve to be happy but are not. And they are many.
I look forward to Christmas and the first sets of street and corporate Christmas lights remind me that I am lucky to see the end of another year in one piece despite different challenges. Christmas also strangely reminds me of the different stages of my development as a person since I have celebrated Christmas in different ways over the years. I love to be alone now but I wasn’t always like that. Been there, done it as they say; the night clubs, parties, corporate dinners and bright lights.
Now, I just enjoy the solitude and resist as much as I can, the pull of weddings and end-of-year activities. This new me has its spiritual side in that I am very much aware of my mortality now. This of course is not helped by the spate of deaths this Christmas. ‘The death that snatches your contemporary away is actually sending a message to you,’ says a Yoruba adage. And quite a few of my contemporaries passed on this year.
Speaking of activities, there is a dear friend of mine who told me a couple of weeks ago that she could not wait for Christmas to be over. I thought she found the end- of-year functions a little bit overwhelming until she confided that Christmas hadn’t been the same since her husband left her and the season usually amplifies her single status.
She also found the constant battles of who the children would spend Christmas with between her and her ex-husband very tiring. Just as I was sitting down to write this article and unaware of what I was going to write about, my wife suggested our seeing this Christmas, a friend who lost her husband a few months ago. I agreed and also suggested another one who lost her husband on the cusp of Christmas a couple of years ago. If we cared to think less of ourselves and our search for fun, we would realise that quite a few people are deprived and hurting at Christmas.
Forget the obvious ones like the people of Yemen, Jerusalem, Syria, Libya, and such war-torn or terrorist ravaged areas including our own North-East. Or even the homeless, the beggars and the prisoners. Think for a change about your next door neighbour, your fellow church goer, your colleague at work or classmate and you will not be short of people who need a touch, a smile, a gift, a call or a visit at Christmas.
So when next you are asked what you will do at Christmas, be sure to remember those who have lost their jobs, their homes, their spouses, their siblings, their children, their marriages and sometimes their will to live and include them in your plans. The fresher the loss, the more acute their feeling of loneliness is at Christmas. At the same time, be glad that you are alive and in a position to show empathy. You could have been in their shoes but for the grace of God. Merry Christmas dear readers. May the joy of Christmas be ours and may we internalise the reason for the season.
P.S. Somebody should please tell Governor Ambode that lighting up Lagos at Christmas goes beyond the cosmetic. It actually helps in lifting up the mood of the people he has been elected to govern.