Posted by The Office of the President of the Republic of T&T on Monday, December 24, 2018

Fellow Citizens,

Many are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to experience the “merry” in Christmas this year. Even the most devout Christian, for whom Christmas is the commemoration and celebration of the birth of Jesus, might struggle to enter into the spirit of the season.

Residents of Greenvale, former Petrotrin or TSTT employees, parents of a missing child, the wife of a murder victim and sundry others may just not be feeling it. What should be a time of hope, peace, love and joy is rather a period of sadness, frustration and despair for them. For me to smile brightly and wish them Merry Christmas might be to add salt to a festering wound.

The peaceful Christmas tableau with its nuclear family, angels bearing good tidings and the Magi may seem very remote and irrelevant when family life is under siege, good news as scarce as hen’s teeth, and worse yet there is not a wise man in sight.

But every religious holiday affords us the opportunity to be reminded of fundamentals that can elude us in the hurly burly of life. As much as we enjoy the days off, the true bonus of living in a multi-religious society, such as ours, is that we have multiple opportunities during the year to reflect on values that are common to all good men and women.

Christmas is one such period. Christians observe and celebrate Christmas to remind them of their core beliefs, and we do need reminders, especially in these difficult times when it is easy to lose sight of the essential message. What are the lessons of Christmas for all of us, Christian or non-Christian, despondent or in good spirits, well-off or hard up?

Christmastide is first and foremost a season of hope. The hope of Christians is the power and freedom to live confidently in the present trusting that the future is pregnant with possibility while awaiting Christ’s second Advent which will renew all things and fulfill God’s purpose for the world.

In religion, hope is anchored in belief in the divine. Humanists also hope but place that hope in their fellow man, finding good where it exists and using it as an impetus to continue working towards the goal of improving this world even while the goalposts keep retreating.

When we hope, we all tap into the universal ethos, pithily described by Saint Paul, in 2 Corinthians: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Hope provides rich opportunities for learning and, especially when it is all we have, it can open our eyes and hearts to discover who our true friends are, the inner strength we possess and a wealth of compassion for others.

Christmas has become synonymous with gift-giving, but gifts are only meant to be symbols of the love that we have for their recipients. In our materialistic society, the gift has become an end in itself and we think the bigger and more expensive the better.

When we cannot afford to buy a gift we may feel inadequate, as if we’ve fallen short. Reject that notion, really it’s the thought that counts. Whether or not giving presents this year, let us give the true gift of love stripped of all the bells and whistles. On Christmas morning and all year round, let our loved ones unwrap our gifts of compassion, forbearance, kindness, love, patience and sacrifice.

I thank you for kindly allowing me into your homes this evening; might I impose further on your hospitality and be so bold as to propose a Christmas Gift Registry.

Among my selections are:

  • a listening ear
  • your time and attention
  • empathy
  • encouragement
  • good manners
  • optimism
  • introspection
  • respect for others
  • self-restraint
  • and of course, the national gifts of discipline, production and tolerance which should be prized items on the shopping list.

Life’s troubles can make us selfish and self-absorbed and while it might seem counterintuitive to give yourself a gift, it might be just what is needed. My registry provides gift suggestions from which we may choose for ourselves, our children, co-workers, family and friends. Let’s knock ourselves out!

“Peace and goodwill to all men” is a familiar Christmas refrain. Peace for the Christian is more than the absence of war or conflict; it is wholeness, wellbeing, prosperity and safety which come from One Source, God, resides in one place, our heart, and is nurtured in one space, covenant relationship with God which provides a steady stream that nourishes the soul and flows outward to others. Christians, do not however, have a monopoly on peace. People interpret peace differently – but what is agreed is that it transcends understanding and comes from within, it is a state of contentment, security and tranquility which remains unaffected even while we are being buffeted by the vicissitudes of life.

We all know someone, who in the face of the most severe hardship, maintains a cheerful and calm disposition; not because they are in denial but because they are at peace with themselves and the world. When one is at peace, there is an irresistible impulse to spread that blessing to others. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Let us actively pursue peace and make it an integral part of our lives.

For Christians, Christmas is a joyous time, joy born of the gift of Emmanuel, God with us, and all of the love and potential that love represents. Joy is not a feeling, as feelings are by nature transitory, it has more gravitas; it is a state of being and is to be found in the enduring aspects of our lives. We do not have to look far to find sources of joy, it can be found in The Almighty, nature, our family, vocation and interests.

Search out joy, not in material possessions or fleeting experiences, but in deep mindfulness brought about by peace, love and hope. Such joy allows us to rejoice in all circumstances, to be content, whether we have little or plenty, are well-fed or hungry.

May hope, love and peace dog your footsteps this season, and I wish you all a most Joyous Christmas.