Thu | Feb 22, 2018

Garth Rattray | Santa stress out

Published:Monday | December 25, 2017 | 12:05 AM

We all know that Jesus was not born near this time of the year. It is said that about three centuries after His birth, Roman Emperor Constantine ostensibly chose to unify the empire and make converting to Christianity easier by popularising the religion through the merging of several pagan festivities that occurred near the end of the year.

Emperor Constantine incorporated many pagan traditions into the Christmas festivities. The holiday was celebrated with the exchanging of gifts and the cheerful gathering of family and friends. It is believed that the date, December 25 was first discovered in an early (336 A.D.) Roman calendar as the date to be celebrated as Jesus’ birth.

The origin of Santa Claus dates back to a Turkish monk, St. Nicholas. Legend has it that Nicholas was a pious and kind man. Over time, the image of Santa Claus became associated with that of a gaunt-looking man clothed in a bishop’s robe and a Norse huntsman’s animal skin. In the mid-nineteenth century, artists depicted Santa as a mythical, diminutive elf.  

The image of Santa Claus slowly morphed into the one that we are all familiar with today - a large, jolly, white-bearded man with a protuberant abdomen, clothed in a red suit (circa 1931). This visage was influenced by the Coca-Cola soft drink company who used the Santa image in their Christmas ads since the 1920’s.

Now, all across the globe, this commercialised Santa Claus has subverted the original spirit of Christmas. It used to be a time of reflecting on God’s greatest gift to the world, a time for family and friends, a time to practice charity and a time to share (gifts, food, our homes, good times).

But Santa’s claws are into everything. The season is marred by a lot of pressure to shop, shop, shop and buy, buy, buy things for the home, for friends and for family. Many people chuckle at the dilemma felt my others at Christmas time. They say that it serves others right for encouraging and joining in a pagan season of celebrating. They see it as bordering on worshiping the pagan gods - Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and Mithras, the Persian god of light.

And so, Christmas is ‘celebrated’ by most religions and by people of all races and from many countries as they hop on the bandwagon to ‘worship’ the god of commerce with all their hearts, souls and bank accounts. This is the season that puts many businesses into the ‘black’ (the fiscal term for making a profit). This is the season that businesspeople, producers, manufacturers and merchants live for. This is the season that brings all the hustlers into the streets. It’s the season that invigorates tradesmen and labourers. People work hard and save a lot only to spend it all in the name of Christmas.

A relative few, ever dwindling number of people cling desperately to the religious significance of Christmas … even though it has no origin in fact and was piggybacked onto paganism. I can see why many insist that it be called, “the holidays” … and even that nomenclature is flawed … the holidays are not really holy days after all. The older I get, the more I see why it’s easy for the season to be shunned by practicing Christians, it’s become a commercialised, mundane season of excesses. I confess that I go along for the ride because the general atmosphere is one of jollification.

But there’s a very dark side to Christmas, brought on by the pressure to earn or save money to spend for fun and gifts. Children live from one Christmas to the next and parents feel pressured into supplying gifts and sumptuous meals this time of the year. Some people have had horrible tragedies occur around this season and others miss the company of loved ones who have transitioned. Family gatherings are sometimes dampened by the empty chair left by a close relative.

On Saturday, December 16 I met up with a friend at Devon House. I’ve known her for 45 years. She lives in the USA but was briefly visiting Jamaica with a few friends. I was standing in the courtyard when a slim, angry-looking fellow, partially dressed in a dishevelled Santa Claus outfit stormed by everyone while loudly and repeatedly shouting, “Santa stress out!! Santa stress out!!” I had no idea who infuriated him, but it appeared as if he was ‘losing it’. He continued his loud proclamation as he breezed into the open area where children were gathered and playing. I wondered how badly traumatised they were by that idiot.

However, he was the inspiration for this piece. Amidst his disgraceful outbursts, it occurred to me that because parents, relatives and friends often adopt the persona of Santa at Christmas time, and given the prevalent economic hardships here in Jamaica, ‘Santa’ must stress out fi true.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com