President: Celebrating Christmas this year does not make you tone deaf to the suffering around us

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President: Celebrating Christmas this year does not make you tone deaf to the suffering around us

“Celebrating Christmas this year does not mean that we are unaware, tone deaf or in denial of the pain, suffering and abuse experienced by many of our citizens.”

That’s according President Paula-Mae Weekes in her Christmas Day message.

She said people who suffer ill-health, COVID-19 related or otherwise, can draw comfort from the care and compassion of healthcare workers who, at costs physical and emotional, continue to put themselves on the frontlines of our pandemic response.

The following is her message to the nation:

Fellow citizens of our beloved Republic.

Today is Christmas Day, the day chosen to mark an event that happened more than two millennia ago.

People are by nature forgetful, which is why there are times in the year set aside to remind us of the important parts of our story as people of faith.

It is no coincidence that within a space of eight weeks, Trinidad and Tobago observes two significant religious festivals, both of which celebrate the power of light, in particular, its triumph over darkness.

On Christmas Day, Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ—the cornerstone of their faith. At the heart of the festivities: a baby boy born to be Saviour of the world.

But the observances are not limited to one day or one faith—it is a season and all may participate. It is a season in which kindness and charity are in full bloom, when we appreciate our loved ones anew, extend hospitality to all, and when Christians and non-Christians together commemorate the occasion in keeping with their various family traditions. Whether young in years or at heart, Christmas is a time for believing and receiving.

Celebrating Christmas this year does not mean that we are unaware, tone deaf or in denial of the pain, suffering and abuse experienced by many of our citizens.

The Christmas narrative itself does not ignore or gloss over this reality. The very story of Christmas is one in which the hope of salvation and eternal life was injected into a world that was broken, hurting and hopeless.

Into that bleak situation, a people living in darkness, the angel brought tidings of great joy. The popular carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” added “comfort” to the heavenly host’s message and perhaps with good reason, as comfort is part and parcel of the chronicle of Christmas. I invite you to find some time in this season to engage in moments of stillness and reflection to identify your sources of comfort and joy.

Jesus’ birth is a source of comfort for Christians, the long-awaited fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy and a sign of God’s everlasting love and faithfulness to His people. Believer or non-believer, those who have been visited by adversity over the last year, are in need of comfort during this season and beyond.

People who suffer ill-health, COVID-19 related or otherwise, can draw comfort from the care and compassion of our healthcare workers who, at costs physical and emotional, continue to put themselves on the frontlines of our pandemic response.

Those lacking the wherewithal to put the traditional feast on the table or presents under the tree can be comforted by those who exemplify and practise that Christmas spirit of generosity and goodwill providing hampers and meals for the needy and toys and treats for children.

Workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic may take comfort from the knowledge that vaccines, which are readily available, hold the key to a certain and steady return to normalcy. For the bereaved, there is comfort in enduring memories of the love and laughter of happy Christmases past.

Christmas is also a season of giving, so let us be alert for opportunities to comfort others. This can be one of the worst times of year for people struggling with their mental health, partly because of the pressure to be merry and bright despite their psychological and emotional state. Recognise and acknowledge their feelings, show empathy and give them the space needed, even while remaining available to lend an ear, provide words of inspiration and spend quality time together.

And as for joy, it is at the core of the Christmas narrative. Every year, the Christian faithful relive the joy of that first Christmas when they received the gift of salvation—a gift that keeps on giving in the form of the hopeful anticipation of Christ’s second coming.

Usually when people think of joy, they think of merriment and pleasure, but mere happiness can be fleeting and easily countered by external factors. Joy is far more enduring and persists even in times of great difficulty. An attitude of gratitude as they say is the surest pathway to finding true joy. Get into the habit of counting your blessings.

Generosity, bonhomie and good cheer are hallmarks of Christmastime, but for some, it may take conscious and continuous effort to discover our wellspring of joy. But it can and will be found in aspects of life that we perhaps take for granted.

In Trinidad and Tobago, over 650,000 persons have received free vaccinations which greatly reduce the likelihood of serious illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19, surely a godsend. Another cause for joy is that our democracy is alive and well, as demonstrated by the many liberties we enjoy and evidenced by the recent THA election. It is indeed a joyous state of affairs that our nationals, who were once stuck abroad, can now come home at will and that this Christmas, families are able to gather, albeit in limited number and in strict adherence to the protocols. Churchgoers are joyful that they can worship communally, even as they observe the rule of allowed capacity.

Every Trinbagonian is familiar with the expression, ‘spreading joy,’ a colloquial way of saying that joy multiplies when we extend it to others. When we find joy, let us be sure to share it generously and indiscriminately—it costs nothing but is an invaluable gift. Give of your time and attention, lend a helping hand, pay an unexpected compliment. Practise being alert, compassionate and supportive of others. Also spread joy by offering hospitality, no matter how humble your circumstances. Visit elderly relatives and residents of senior homes and from a safe distance, exchange greetings or parang the house. Call a family member or friend with whom you have not spoken for some time, especially if there is some tension between you. After all, Christmas is a season of restored relationship.

Social media can be an ideal vehicle for spreading joy. In these 12 days of Christmas and into the New Year, as you post, saturate your words with wisdom and kindness, so that they refresh, empower and encourage your followers.

In closing, I offer this old Celtic blessing:

“I pray that happiness be at your door. May it knock early, stay late and leave the gift of peace, love, joy and good health behind.”

The staff of the Office of the President and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a bright and prosperous New Year!

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