Christmas is Mindless Consumption
David lives in the US and was visiting Trinidad when I first met him. I was introduced to him by his sister Betty and her husband Omesh. Betty was a Christian and so was David. Settled and working in the US in the medical field, David shared with me his hurt and shame for not being able to speak Hindi. “In the US when a Polish friend calls home he speaks his mother tongue; an Italian would speak his mother tongue but the only language I know is English,” he lamented.
David’s family attends a Church and has alienated themselves from Hinduism and Indian culture. “The only thing Indian about me is the Indian food I eat. I am now trying to learn more about my culture and history,” he shared.
In Assam, India, the Christian missionaries have been actively converting Hindus to Christianity. One missionary decided that he would take an Assamese church choir on a tour of the US. The choir sang many melodious hymns that were familiar to the congregation. A request was then made for the choir to sing an Assames folk song. They could not and apologised to the audience-“We are sorry, we don’t know any.”
It is interesting to hear what Trinis would have to share with Americans if they are asked “what celebrations you celebrate in Trinidad?” More than likely their response would be Christmas, thus leaving the American confused. It appears that many colonial people are just not happy in their skin and are working desperately to mutate into anyone but themselves. Such behaviour reflects a deeper inferiority complex brought about by a colonial narrative through the education system where everything non-European was scorned.
Until the 1940s Trinidad had a diversity of spoken languages: Spanish, Patios (French), Bhojpuri (Hindi) and English. The British, in its haste to anglicise the society, imposed English as the language of instruction in the schools, courts and civil service. Gradually the other languages began declining in usage. French and Spanish which are in the curriculum are chosen by few students for CSEC and CAPE. Hindi, the second spoken language in the country, is not included in the curriculum. Government after government continues to deny Hindi its rightful place in the curriculum.
India is the land of diversity. It is said that for every five miles one travels the culture changes. This is only so because of India’s culture of acceptance. For example, there is no national clothing in India. Though the sari is a common wear in India it is not legislated as the national wear. The same can be said for the food and music. The festivals are not declared national and each part of India would have its unique festival. For example, the worship of Ganesh would be prominent in Gujarat and Mumbai while Durga Festival would prevail in Calcutta. The number of languages and dialects are numerous and so are the number of gods and goddesses.
Divali is celebrated in India but in so many different ways. The significance of Divali is not confined to the return of Lord Ram to Ayodha. There are diverse stories behind the celebration of Divali. Contrast Divali with Christmas and that diversity is lost. Christmas is limited to Christmas tree, exchanging gifts, Santa Claus and the birth of Jesus. This standardization of Christmas is being marketed across the world. Local cultures such as sorrel, ginger beers, pone and other cuisines associated with traditional Trini Christmas is now being thrown out the window. The culture of home baking is in decline as imported cakes and pastries are purchased from high end supermarkets. Tanty Merle who sells drop and coconut bake does not stand a chance. Presenting a few freshly picked oranges is not viewed as an appropriate Christmas gift. It must be imported and gift-wrapped and then presented.
Our local business houses are in decline. Shoppers are now seen crowding the malls where the international chain stores are in operation. With no end to forex, these international chain stores flood their stores with goods from throughout the globe. No effort is made to develop local industries which are in decline. For example, a mall in Gasparillo has not a single shop that carries products manufactured in the area. These malls are established to drain the blood of the economy and repatriate profits to the developed nations. The reality is the banks make availability millions of dollars in forex to the multinationals to import goods while our sons and daughters studying abroad cannot get a few hundred dollars.
David has lost his soul. The ads on the television think for him. He is incapable of knowing what is good or bad for him. His conversion to an alien culture has destroyed his power of discrimination. He is today a consumer par excellence. His measurement of success is his affordability to purchase international brands supplied by the transnational corporations and to negotiate credit from the banks to make purchases. It is never about building local industries; never about production; always about mindless consumption.