There is something at once thrillingly exciting and tragically sad about the last week of December, every year, for the working class (all those human beings currently employed or unemployed, who survive by selling their labour – getting a job – and only live from this income) and poor people, all over the world.

The days from the 23rd to the 31st of December, if there is some reasonable amount of money to spare, can be very fun filled days, happy days. Workplaces are closed, schools, colleges and universities are closed. Normally everyone should be home. It is “family time” all round, whatever the composition of the family! This time around though, the coronavirus pandemic requires caution on social gatherings.

It is the season of love, hope, goodwill and generosity, and of course loads of church and excitement especially as the 25th of December fast approaches.

We are trapped as it is in a world of mass unemployment and endless work, infinite appetite to consume things, millions of unmet needs, an insatiable lust for pleasure, and mountains of the latest commodities in warehouses and shops. For the majority of us, all this is firmly wedded to our personal “permanent insufficient funds status”. It is, therefore, a great annual ritual to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth to rescue us all from this hell we have constructed for ourselves. Therein lies the true source of joy for Christmas! Christmas rekindles hope we can be free from it all.

Our world is full of rumours and actual wars. We hear the US, Britain, Japan and Western Europe are planning wars against China and Russia. We in Africa have always lived with several countries at war, all at the same time. Deadly pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, Ebola and so on now roam freely, and capitalists are busy telling us to “learn how to live with pandemics”.

Mass poverty is the fate of the majority. Hunger ravages many households. Unemployment has become so common it is no longer abnormal to be unemployed in an entire life time. In fact, many have simply become unemployable. Inequalities are in the extreme, everywhere.

And then there are bills. Rent, water, electricity, tv, DSTV, rates, school fees, Wi-Fi, cell phone, land line phone – life simply seems to be one hell of a long bill paying journey, a ceaseless bills paying lifetime only death frees us from! Of course, we need food, clothes and some leisure too. All these need money, that evil magical stuff when we do have it, it is never enough.

There is not much real joy in the world, because of the hardships of life. Billions of people feel hard done by; they feel that there is no justice in the world as they struggle to find and keep badly paying jobs.

There is no peace in relationships because there is very little love. The love that is the fruit of knowledge, respect, responsibility and caring is extremely rare to find in the world today. Instead, everyone is trying to get whatever they can from everybody around them! We are all buying or selling something, always trading with others, even in our most intimate relationships. “What can I get from this one” is the main driving force behind most of our relationships.

It is almost impossible in a world driven by trading and competition to find love, authentic love. Sadly, without justice and love, there is no peace. And so, we are all troubled people, worried people, unhappy people, always tense stressed people. Our faces have become expert masks at concealing what is going on deep inside our souls.

When we cut out all the buying and selling, the eating and drinking, the partying and getting drunk, the hustling and scrounging for the things we need over this time, we find that we basically have a human being struggling to come to terms with a world that does not offer durable and quality justice, peace, love, happiness and freedom. We find the human being in a cold, selfish, ruthlessly competitive world in which the individual basically is left to fend for themselves, unless they can prove they are a worthy “investment”.

This does not mean good people who look after other human beings simply because it is the right and proper thing to do, do not exist; they do. These, sadly, are a fast-fading tiny minority who are being swallowed up by the powerful currents of individualism, selfishness and private competition to accumulate wealth and acquire social status. In fact, they are normally regarded as fools, individuals who are incapable of making the mental and cultural transition into this world we live in, a world mediated by ruthless competition for everything.

And so, even for those with the thinnest relationship to Christianity, they look forward to Christmas. It is the season of hope, of possibilities for new beginnings, it is the season for generosity of heart and renewal of faith for the soul; suddenly it seems redemption from a cruel world is possible.

Christmas is the day we renew our hope that in Jesus Christ, we finally got “saved” from the troubles of our souls and this world. The possibility of reconciling with ourselves, and our neighbours, suddenly shines very bright, at least for the moment!

There is a deep psychic yearning, I want to assume, beating in every human heart, to want to truly love, and be loved, to connect and relate fully with oneself and other human beings. The maddening sense of isolation and loneliness when we are surrounded by so many people is some of the source of our mental health problems and major cause of our unhappiness. Christmas symbolises the possibility to overcome this isolation, this loneliness.

That at the end of December we transit into a fresh new year adds greater joy to the last week of December. We plan to do better next year. We make new resolutions. We revive our interest in life, work and relationships. We celebrate our good fortune at having survived the just ended year, especially considering that there is a raging pandemic and an ongoing global economic crisis.

It is possible to rescue Christmas and New Year celebrations from their current commercial and extreme consumerist cultural moorings, into days of genuine reflections on human emancipatory possibilities and revival of genuine human hope, and faith, in the goodness of the human person.

Alas, come the 3rd of January, hard Earthly reality kicks in, the Christmas magic is gone, we are in the new year, money is scarce, and we know we are back to the painful daily grind of our life, till the next last week of December 2022! It does not need to be like this; we can be free!

Do have, hopefully, a great 2022!

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