The Year without Christmas
December 18, 2010
Joegodson and Paul
In times past, the women of Cite Soleil used to begin preparations for Christmas in October. Nothing was more ordinary than the sight of the local women sweeping the streets of their neighbourhood to make sure the moment would be special. Children would paint toy soldiers colourfully and make them line up outside, guarding the celebration that everyone anticipated.
The poorest parents would go without food in order that their children would have gifts on Christmas day. Many would buy some necessity for their children – a schoolbook, clothes, or food. Those who could would give their children something special, like a toy. The presents were given directly to the children; Santa Claus does not fly so far south. Sometimes, however, someone would dress up as Père Noël to amuse the neighbours.
It was important that everyone be included. No religion could claim Christmas as its own. It was a way of being. Christmas was a moment of pardon when Haitians suspended their arguments, feuds, and petty competitions. There was a hint of peace in the air, an intimation of something beautiful: a Haiti where people valued giving over taking and forgiveness over recrimination.
Haitians are divining a void where Christmas used to be. There is not even a gesture towards the vision of peace on earth that Christmas used to signify.
In the past, Christmas brought together those who had been separated or estranged. It was a moment of camaraderie. This year, Haitians are literally stunned by their losses. In celebrating togetherness, Christmas has always had the unintended power to remind us of who is lost, and lost forever. Now, in Haiti, every gathering is remarkable for its absences. There is no way to lift the shroud that hangs over Christmas this year. It only reminds Haitians of all those they have lost.
In previous years, even the poorest Haitians could afford to buy something special for Christmas. Now, the little that is available is priced out of reach. Christmas will be another day of want. The hunger will be even more painful on December 25.
Decorating your squalid tent would only mock Christmas and the promise of peace and goodwill.
The most disturbing development of all is that peace is hidden behind fear and violence; la peur au lieu de la paix. Worse, Haitians are having a hard time finding the power to forgive those who have stolen the possibility of peace. Haitians had a chance in 2010 to take their future into their own hands. The political machinations of those who control the national, international, and mutilateral institutions of oppression have starved the Haitian people of truth while force-feeding the populations of powerful countries with lies.
It is within those countries that the Haitian people could find the allies that could bring Christmas into focus again. But those populations either understand how the world works or they don’t. It appears that most don’t. Or they don’t care. Or – and here is the greatest impediment to peace on earth – they approve.