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The debt spiral caused by Christmas and general spending affects the relationships as well as physical and mental health of far too many people in our country. It also affects the world around us, writes Melanie Verwoerd
So today is Christmas.
Something not many people know about me is that I studied theology. At a time when women could not be ordained in the NG Church, I joined 50 men to study the deeper meaning of the Bible at Stellenbosch University.
Despite (or perhaps because of) my studies, I have long since parted ways with organised religion. However, I still continue my journey of seeking spiritual connection and meaning in the world - something I think all people long for.
So on the this day when billions of people around the world celebrate Christmas, I find myself again thinking about the fundamental message behind all the celebrations.
Christians (practicing and non-practicing) of course believe that it is a celebration of the birth of baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.
The circumstances were certainly less than ideal for a little baby to be born into. There was no midwife, no bed for Mary to give birth on, no baby crib, no car seat to strap on a donkey afterwards, not even clothes for the baby to wear. For all we know it was only dad Joseph and the animals present in the stable.
It is this birth, in the humblest and simplest of circumstances, that we celebrate today.
Yet, increasingly it seems to me that we are moving further and further away from the message of this birth over 2 000 years ago.
I don't want to go all Scrooge on you, but let's face it. Christmas and our lives in general have become more and more about stuff.
We acquire stuff to prove that we have made it in life, that we are good parents, that we deserve respect.
Cars, houses, clothes, cellphones, make up, shoes etc., etc. All to prove to ourselves and others that we are somebody. This obsession escalates into a frenzy as we get closer to the 25th of December.
The reason why we want to acquire things differs from person to person. Fear, a lack of trust, a painful childhood - the reasons are endless. Knowing why we consume is important, but it does not mean that we must be trapped by it.
I'm not saying we mustn't surround ourselves with things that truly make us happy. However, I think if we are honest we would all admit that the vast majority of things we acquire are unnecessary and do not really make us happy – in fact it may make us unhappy.
Just think how quickly kids and family members lose interest in their presents – thus making that January financial credit card hangover even more difficult to deal with.
The debt spiral caused by Christmas and general spending affects the relationships as well as physical and mental health of far too many people in our country.
It also affects the world around us.
The strain that all this consumption is putting on our environment is devastating. In fact so devastating that we might eventually destroy the earth we live on.
Imagine also how different our political landscape would have been If this desperate clamber for wealth didn’t exist. We would not have been in the cesspool of corruption that we find ourselves in.
I once heard Yvonne Chaka-Chaka explain how she has little interest in money and things. "Look, if there is one thing I know, it is that we come into this world with nothing and we leave again with nothing," she said.
So, for a few moments today, I want to forget about the food and the gifts. I want to look at my family who are sharing the day with me and say thank you to them for being in my life. I want to look at my amazing children and let them know how proud I am of them. I want to remember those who were kind to me over the last year and all the lovely people I have engaged with.
And if I can get anyone to stand still long enough, I will give them a hug! (So run if you see me in the street!)
I also want to remember those who are not with people today, or who might feel really sad because they could not afford to give their children big presents, or fancy food or perhaps have no family or friends to share it with.
Christmas above any other day, can make these circumstances really hard to deal with.
If you are one of those people, know that this does not in any way make you a failure or define you. Because on that first Christmas, a baby was born in a rickety stable and that little baby went on to change the world.
May those of you who celebrate Christmas have a very peaceful and happy day.
- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. See www.melanieverwoerd.co.za
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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