Christmas is always a funny time of year in Bangladesh. Come December there are always feelings that come hand in hand with Christmas Day itself and those which relate more to the end of the year and the passing of time.
For me Christmas has always been more of a cultural practice rather than a religious celebration. Like many people in the UK I have never been to church at Christmas time for carols or festive services and I have rarely drawn my mind to the meaning of Christmas beyond the nativity play taught in schools.
Previous Christmases in Bangladesh were always met with a sense of sadness on my part. There was a strange mix of guilt (being away from ‘home’) and this bizarre feeling of loss that I was not part of the festivities. But this year I feel very different. A few years away from my traditional Christmas has allowed me to step back from the hype of consumerism this time of year brings. I can see now that for me a central part of Christmas was just about the need to buy and spend, often to please others. Whilst I am now removed from bustling shopping malls, back at home people are literally consumed with buying all that their heart desires. Many are not even switched onto this reality or choose to ignore it.
I recently read about the impact of Black Friday in the UK with shoppers fighting over discounted products to the point that some were embroiled in arguments, or worse, injured. World news has enjoyed covering current spending patterns in the UK and USA hedging their bets on when consumers will part with their money. Sky news reports that residents in the UK will spend on average £872 on the cost of Christmas whilst just last night the BBC reported that low income earners in England are relying ever more on food banks due to rising food prices and utility bills. In one of the world’s richest countries people are going hungry.
This year my family will be enjoying an unusually understated Christmas with good friends (a German lady with her Bangladeshi husband) and good food. This year I won’t be stressing about buying (or the lack of buying) and intend to enjoy some new experiences. I hope this year heralds a new meaning to Christmas for me and my family here in Bangladesh – one about spending time with loved ones over the temptation for excess.
More generally in Dhaka – this Christmas time there have been some wonderful initiatives for people to give back to those less fortunate in the capital and across Bangladesh. Many such programs provide warm clothes and blankets for the needy during winter which is surprisingly cold. With so many people so obviously in need in Bangladesh and across the world perhaps Christmas time should also be about giving back to the community rather than expensive gifts. Just a thought…..
Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year wherever you are in the world.