Christmas and Ayibobo

Ayibobo, in Haiti, is the ceremonial cry of voodoo practitioners.

I watched as, leading to Christmas, the city came alive in a way you only see once a year. The store windows celebrated the coming winter, decorated their entire areas and were anxious to inspire new fashion trends. I watched as people walked past and admired the renovations and lights. They stopped every couple seconds to take a picture with their smartphones, creating sidewalk traffic. They were pulled in, eyes filled with wonder, at what was new and pretty. They walked around the store and little by little, their arms filled with things.

There are, of course, several different types of people: those who can purchase everything they touch and those who can’t. The motions shift from picking things up, looking at the price, holding onto it for a little while and then putting it back down. It is in those moments of holding that they talk to themselves: Do I really need this? But I did work all week. I’vebeen working all week. I should be able to buy something. But, more often than not, the necessities outweigh the wants and the object – whatever it is – is put back on the shelf. And this object could be anything, however small: a keychain, a scarf, a book.

The ones who can have everything they touch, though, run through the city. There arms are slightly lifted away from their bodies as they manage their way through the crowd. The many shopping bags in their hands glow with extravagance.

And then there is the person behind the counter. Their faces down with a frown as they ring out thousands of items, things they can’t afford themselves. They recognize the time they can’t spend with their own loved ones. The holidays being, for them, a nauseating reminder of how much freedom they don’t have.

A pregnant woman, swollen and filled with life caught my attention recently at Walmart. I found myself there, forgetting about what Christmas Eve meant for people, during a very busy time. It was 30 minutes until closing but people kept showing up, pushing their way through the doors.

I, unconsciously, was one of them.

I was hungry and had no food at home. Once I was inside, my eyes stumbled upon a woman: brown, big black twists, flawless skin. She was pretty and it was because of her long twists that I was made aware of her. It wasn’t until several seconds later that her belly came into view. She was moving swiftly, her hands full of items, her crisp blue blazer differentiating her from the other workers. She was someone important to the flow of the store, that much was certain. There was another employee following her, a young girl, whose face looked distressed and tired. As I stood in line, I watched them work. I watched them refuse themselves for an hourly wage and my heart started to hurt. I wanted to run out of there; scream how sorry I was from the very top of my lungs. I wanted to, in that moment, give up the selfishness that seemed to be moving through me.

The moments made me realize how this time of year isn’t, after all, about spiritual goodness, the birth of Jesus Christ or any of the things people tend to preach about. More and more it is about the consumption of things. The need to keep stores open at unhomely hours to make just a little bit more money. That’s what they must be saying at the board meetings when they decide these things, turning everything into numbers: If we, instead, stay open on the holiday, we’ll be making all the money because everyone else will be closed. They pat themselves on the back when the graphs show progression, a rising in the stocks and, by god, mo’ bling bling. They are so far removed from the bottom end of the latter that they have no idea what screws are working to keep the machine going. All the while, the machine is functioning through the clattering teeth of the poor; and they, beaming in their high chairs, are on vacation in Dubai.

Now that everyone stays open on the holiday, how much of a holiday is it, really?

The sentimental notions that say Christmas is about being with family and those you love are understandable. It makes coming together a little easier. It is an excuse for everyone to stop the formalities of working all day to pay bills. They are joined with food, laughter, beer, family gossip and can forget for a while the mundane routine of their daily lives. This is all good, right? But I can’t help but ask myself one question that doesn’t seem to have an answer: Why? Why are such collective feel-good-moments limited to this one time of the year? Why has our society evolved into an instrument that can only operate if revolving around money, bills and things?

Although I’m not religious, I am reminded of the Bible verse Matthew 21:12 that reads, “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”

When Starbucks designed a red coffee cup that excluded what “made Christmas,” people were upset. They argued that the cup being red simply wasn’t enough to show an appreciation for Christmas. Where was the snowman? Where were the snowflakes? Where was the tree? How about Santa, huh, where was he?

It further confirmed how there is a craving, a need even, from the public to be swept off their feet. The people want to be transformed into a merry and jolly fairytale. The craziness surrounding the stores, lights, decorations and parades have become a necessity in tolerating what this world has become. The need is growing year by year. It is a ritual, a ceremony, in its own right: millions of people pray to their god, they set up their offerings (tree, ornaments, lights, etc.), they make New Year resolutions and anticipate an unknown future.