We can all enjoy Christmas. It is not necessary to focus on baby Jesus and the traditional story of shepherds and three wise men.
Last Christmas was spent in Sri Lanka, a country with only 10% Christians but where the Buddhists (70%), Hindu and Muslim all joined in the celebrations.
We had to dress as Santa and his helper to distribute presents at Hillwood College in Kandy. The teacher of Islam said to us “I do love the story of your baby Jesus.” Nobody can ignore the happy arrival of a new baby.
In this hot country snow is painted on shop windows and snowmen are made in schools. The children think snow is magical with no understanding of freezing.
The nursery school performs a nativity play every Christmas with children from all faiths taking part. The script is in English but this particular carol was sung in Sinhala. Children from the age of three are educated in English.
We attended a carol service at St Paul’s Church, Kandy. All the doors and windows were open to combat the heat, so mosquitoes flew in. Outside the tropical rain hissed. Next door is the Temple of the Tooth, even their ceremonies become more animated and special at Christmas time. (It would have been provocative to put a cathedral next to the Temple of the Tooth. Wisely, the Christians established the Bishopric at Kurunegala, some 50 km distant.)
Their drums banged and rolled, the chanting rose in a crescendo. The flocks of birds and fruit bats which roost in the trees cawed and screeched as they vied for their night’s perch. We needed to sing with even more gusto:
Frosty winds made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone
For those who feel, like Mark Twain, that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so”, Christmas is still an important time (pace fidelis).
At Christmas family and friends gather to honour one another with gifts and hospitality. They commune together and relax, looking back on the year and forward to the next, enjoy a period of rest and restitution and look to the future. Gathered families offer their valedictions to those who have passed on and salutations to any new arrival.
This year we will be doing both. Christmas will be the time our new granddaughter gives her first smile.
Enjoy: In The Bleak Midwinter: Choir of Kings College, Cambridge
Note: More stories on Sri Lanka can be found in the Dispatches of Sri Lanka series.