THIS being the first article for the month of December, I thought it would be best to start on a festive note.
The many cultures which blend to make our nation unique treat food in a special way. The timeless author JRR Tolkien said that if more of us valued food and cheer and songs as we hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
When we celebrate a festive season food is our big focus. We make up songs about what we will put in our bellies.
Perhaps because historically many of us had so little, it is a sign of how far we have come by putting on this kind of display. Just as it is important for us to have the house “put away” for Christmas.
While Cervantes, the Spanish poet and author, points out that all sorrows are less with bread, there will be homes with no bread, nor food nor dishes nor tables.
For the impecunious, the season will be like any other season. It will be a grind and a hustle.
There will be homes where wives and mothers pray right up to Christmas Eve that the breadwinner of the house does not spend out his pay packet on po’ guts puncheon or gambling, forgetting that his family needs to be fed for Christmas.
To the drinkers I suggest Shakespeare’s recommendation that if you are to drink, drink away all your unkindness.
There will be homes where parents who have not sought out their children’s company for the year will do the obligatory visit bearing sweets, toys for children of a younger or older age or clothes which may not fit because they had not realised that their children had grown. They may even show up ironically expecting outbursts of gratitude and love and leave aggrieved when it is not forthcoming.
There will be homes where once alcohol is consumed it will be followed by the ugly “tradition” of domestic violence.
I think if we look at ourselves and our behaviour over previous Christmas seasons and realise that whether inadvertently or not, we have caused pain to others instead of bringing joy, then we should just not bother. Absence may be your gift.
There will be homes where children of parents who are divorced or separated may have to spend half day with one parent and half day with another. While these arrangements are thought to benefit the child, I wonder if dislocation on such a day might really be a good thing.
There are parents with children in different homes. It cannot be comforting for a child to know that his father/mother, after paying a flying visit, is going to breathe a sigh of relief, having left and continue the celebrations with his other family. Such a child may be left feeling devalued.
Women, whether mothers or grandmothers, are under tremendous pressure during this season because it is to them, whether they are working or not, that the little ones look to for the provision of stability and surprises.
Domestic workers must make sure their employer’s house is put away and all the basting and baking done and drag their tired legs home for late nights to try to do their own groceries, baking and cleaning.
If you employ a domestic worker, try to give the gift of a little time off so he/she can nurture their family ties. We cannot criticise people for not valuing family life and family structure if we are taking steps as employers which will have this impact on them.
The preparation and sharing of food is imbued with something sacred. When we sit and share food around this time we share something sacred. Don’t tarnish this with violence, pettiness and envy.
Just as we have special foods which we prepare for Christmas, so too do other countries. Christmas will not be the same in England without mince pies. Mince pies have a long history on the Christmas table, having become part of the Christmas tradition since the 13th century.
The knights returning from the Crusades returned with different spices which are used to this day to flavour these pies.
Many Catholics in various countries actually fast on Christmas Eve. In southern Italy and Sicily, they fast on Christmas Eve and break the fast with dishes of seafood.
In Poland, the fast is broken by eating a sweetbread called babka. In Greece, it would not be Christmas without the dessert melomakarona.
If you are not a Muslim in the Phillipines, the centrepiece of your Christmas table might be a whole roasted pig.
Certainly, the association between this festive season and special foods unique to this time of the year makes the celebrations even more pleasurable. If we had to identify the ingredients of a happy Christmas, they will include the smells of our childhood Christmases.
Sophia K Chote SC is an Independent Senator