Once again, we’re moving into the season where schools close, year-end reviews permeate the airwaves and print media, the weather turns nasty and the many coloured lights come on lighting up neighbourhoods, trees and even construction cranes in the city. It’s supposed to be a time for reflection, taking account of the past year, and making personal resolutions for the year to come. Or not.
This is also the time of year where families gather despite the difficult travel and weather conditions, presents are exchanged – or not – and foodbanks need all the donations they can gather. To be homeless at this time of year is multiplied by the fact that those unfortunate enough to have no home, most likely have no family and few friends they can count on. In other words, this time of year exacerbates their predicament. The rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Glamorous parties are the counterpoint to long lineups at the foodbank and the soup kitchens.
Children at this time of year are excited with all the lights, the feverish shopping of the parents, being out of school, the cookies and the anticipation of presents. Of course, there are the religious celebrations, the enactment of romantic stories about a poor, homeless couple with a new born fleeing persecution and finding shelter in a stable full of animals. This of course has no resemblance to the homeless down on their luck in our inner cities, living in tents and makeshift shelters. No temples and cathedrals are going to be built in their honour.
We’re in Mexico where the decorations and religious rituals are taken to another level and town squares are turned into magical fantasy sets replete with over life sized straw animals. Aztek warriors with splendid plumage on their heads and fisher folk casting imaginary nets are joined by indigenous dancers and of course, always eclipsed by a large and splendidly decorated tree. Church-bells are ringing at the oddest times and fireworks go off most every night.
Many Mexicans still live in extended family households where everybody joins in keeping the family unit functioning and together. Old people are cared for within the household, babies and toddlers are looked after within the family and those who work and earn, share and participate. This includes those who have to go afar, to the US or Canada, to make a meagre living in order to send some money home. We don’t see many homeless here. Yes, there are street people but most of them have something to sell, a few fruits or vegetables or some other products like honey or simple weavings or a small basket made of pine needles. Yes, the weather is warmer here than in Vancouver at this time of year and nobody freezes to death. Yesterday there was an event in the decorated plaza that advertised itself as ‘Nobody goes cold’ with various musicians playing for donations of blankets and warm clothes. By the end of the day a large pile of ponchos, blankets, hoodies, jackets and sweaters was collected to be distributed to those in need. A sense of communality is evident by the crowds gathering every day to just walk and look at the lights and sights whereas at home we are mostly enclosed in our homes or the malls. Not much outdoor life at this time of year.
To end the year and start a new one is part of the cyclic nature of our lives and closing rituals are an essential part and they help us release and let go of the past, good or bad; it’s a time to think about the future and what’s yet to come. We all have the three ghosts of Dickens tale, the past, the present and the future and all together they make up who we are and the things we’ve done and have yet to do.
Do we have a reason to celebrate and make merry? I suppose it depends on your situation. Personally, I don’t really care about the rituals of this season – bah-humbug – but I enjoy the lights, the food and the gatherings. I‘m thinking of my friend who is dying; I’m thinking of my niece and her fragile, new baby; I’m thinking of our neighbours and friends who enrich our lives and how fortunate we are to have each other.