Everyone can celebrate Christmas!

My class of refugees (Nov-Dec 2014) around the paper Christmas tree!

My class of refugees (Nov-Dec 2014) around the paper Christmas tree!

It really amazes me how non-Christians get into the spirit of Christmas! They may or may not appreciate the religious significance, but they certainly enjoy the trappings of the season — gifts, Christmas trees, decor, Santa Clauses, Santa’s stocking caps, eating, drinking and generally just making merry!

I think it’s great that people feel free to participate in the external aspects of this feast which is very close to the heart of Christians. The Christmassy feeling is something anyone can relate with. We owe this worldwide phenomenon known as the Christmas season to the West! This merry season is an export of the Western Christian developed world where Christmas is celebrated with great gusto! Something about that celebration has touched the hearts of people worldwide, prompting them to celebrate this season even if they don’t believe in the real reasons for Christmas.

There’s no doubt that much of the celebrations of the season is purely fuelled by commercial interests. I guess people do need to have a good reason to make money and this is a good season as any for that! But, even in the midst of this great money-making enterprise, you see sharp images of real Christmas cutting through the glitz.

Walking through the shopping malls, I saw people sponsoring activities to raise funds for a number of NGOs and welfare homes. Instead of trimmings, there were Christmas trees decorated with miniature paper Christmas trees, each carrying the name of a child in a home to whom you could pledge a gift. There were carolllers belting out old and new carols, some of which clearly carried the timeless Christmas message, and people stood by to listen.

Some shopping malls arranged fun-filled programmes. The Empire Shopping Mall near my home had the Selangor Philharmonic Society give a 1-hour programme of rousing Christmas music. People were eager to hear and crowded the concourse areas to hear them play. Offices — even where there are only a few Christians (Malaysia has less than 10% Christians) — put up Christmas decor in the spirit of the season!

All this just goes to show that people of any background really want to share in the spirit of Christmas. At HELP College of Arts and Technology, where I teach English to refugees, all the departments took part in a competition for the department with the best Christmas decor. Wow! Did they go to town on their decorations! One department could be easily mistaken as a snow-covered Christmas scene in Mid-west America! They were so creative, using local resources to create a thoroughly Christmassy feel!

Another department had a nearly 4ft Christmas tree made up of entirely of coloured A4 paper rolled to look like bulging boughs (see picture)! Very casually and spontaneously, I asked my refugee students (most of whom are from the hill tribes of Myanmar and predominantly Christian, who are fleeing from a military regime that oppresses them), if they wanted to go carolling. They did. They formed a small group including two who weren’t Christian but who joined for the fun of it!

Yesterday was the last day of their programme and the only time they had was in between exams during which time they practiced and gave a performance that impressed both me and other staff members as well. When they started the programme with me six weeks ago, they could hardly say a sentence in English. Now, they confidently presented a medley of carols in English — with practically no help from me! That’s them in the picture around the paper Christmas tree! The Muslim students — who are Muslim Tamils from Sri Lanka and a Rohingya (Muslim from Myanmar)  — didn’t sing but they came along to lend their support and they enjoyed themselves, too!

Christmas, really, is for everyone! Enjoy!

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