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’Tis the season to be jolly compassionate and to shun conspicuous consumption


Lwando Xaso is an attorney, writer and speaker . She is the founder of Including Society. She is also the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’. Follow her at @includingsociety.

Like many people around the world, the holiday season, or what we South Africans refer to as Dezemba, is my favourite time of year. The last couple of days, I have tried to conjure up the holiday spirit to save myself from despair.

First published in Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper

All year I have looked forward to seeing the Christmas lights, watching Christmas movies, listening to Christmas carols and relaxing into a slower pace. To say this year has been bruising is an understatement. What kept some of us going was the promise of a reliable Dezemba; that somehow we could find prosperity in the latter part of this year. We held on to the hope that a global pandemic could turn our lives inside out but not even it could defeat Dezemba.

I have with much desperation tried to pretend that even amid the current turmoil, sorrow and despair, the holiday season will be more than just salvageable but actually festive and a reward for persevering through this year. At the start of the pandemic a friend of mine made the prediction that it would take us three months tops to tame and eventually eliminate the coronavirus.

I thought three months was optimistic and predicted that we would be seeing the end of the virus by October at the very latest. We thought that if we delayed our plans to December it would be a safe bet. And now here we are almost a full year since our lives were unexpectedly and unfairly interrupted and in some cases destroyed, and there seems to be no light at the end of this year.

My extended family reside in Port Elizabeth, which is currently experiencing a crushing second wave of the virus. Every day this past week we have received news of family friends who are either in hospital or have passed from Covid-19. The sombre news is incessant. Things are so bad that my normally logical and clear-headed aunt wanted to succumb to the hoax narrative – she is latching on to conspiracy theories because they offer more hope than reality. Like so many people, she relies on church to purge during times of spiritual upheaval, and the virus, as if it has not taken enough, has cruelly foreclosed that outlet.

I keep thinking about families who will be missing loved ones around their Christmas lunch tables this year. I feel the pain of those who made plans that remain unrealised. I grieve for the family plans that have to be cancelled because loved ones are incapacitated. I am in despair thinking of those who lost their jobs and instead of abundance this holiday season there is instead the torment of explaining to their children that there is no Christmas this year.

I too was tempted to cancel Christmas, as it’s still unclear how my own family will celebrate this year, considering that our annual pilgrimage to the Eastern Cape seems unwise, even impossible. But instead of being paralysed by the guilt of my own survival I have realised I have to be energised by my own capacity. Life demands that this Christmas has to be about trying to do what I can for others. This is an opportunity to have the most meaningful Christmas ever if I allow myself to see beyond what is lacking in this moment. This season must be about compassion, not conspicuous consumption. It has to be about finding the courage to have hope when all signs point to an even harder 2021. It is about finding the meaning of life beyond the excess that has come to define Christmas. It may be a simpler Christmas but it can be enriching if I allow it to be. DM168

Lwando Xaso is an attorney and writer.


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