Good evening fellow citizens

As you are so gracious as to allow me into your homes on this eve of Christmas Day, I think it only right that I reciprocate and invite you into the newly-renovated and outfitted official residence of the Head of State.  I take this opportunity, on my own behalf and that of Presidents to come, to thank you for this beautiful edifice. As you may be aware, last week there was the formal reopening and during the first quarter of next year, a number of persons selected by lottery will represent you on a visit to President’s House to celebrate this historic achievement. I eagerly anticipate their arrival. 

Our nation can once again take pride in providing its highest office an appropriate building from which to serve the people of Trinidad and Tobago and I am honoured to address you in this setting.

Whether you are eighteen or eighty, you are probably familiar with the perennial Christmas favourite, The Secret of Christmas by Bing Crosby. And the line that resonates most with people is: “It’s not the things you do, at Christmas time. But the Christmas things you do all year through”.

Everybody senses that at this time of year the air is somewhat different. We begin to embody the values of the season­—life and joy, peace and love—and practise behaviour that has become synonymous with Christmastide. We are more generous, loosening both purse and heart strings; more good-natured towards friends and family and strangers too. Drivers suddenly become more considerate, patient and tolerant on our roadways and if you hear a blast of the horn it’s simply someone hailing out a pardner.

Christmas is serious business in Trinidad and Tobago; we pull out all the stops­­— cleaning, shopping, cooking and attending Christmas services, even if only once for the year.

The Christmas effect does not discriminate. While for Christians, the birth of Jesus Christ, Christianity’s central figure, is the overarching reason for the season, for the non-Christian, it is a welcome opportunity to reconnect with friends and family and to put aside, however temporarily, the stress, drudgery and ugliness that often accompanies everyday life. Of course, there are other significant religious observances in our wonderful multi-mix, and there is no doubt that festivals such as Divali and Eid bring with them similar joy for considerable segments of our population. But insofar as people of almost every religion, and those who have no religion at all, exchange gifts; visit friends and relatives; festoon their home with twinkling lights; enjoy the season-specific cuisine, and throng Chinatown, High Street, Busy Corner and Main Street (Scarborough), Christmas is the grand-daddy of them all. Whether or not people subscribe to Christian beliefs, they, by and large, adopt the spirit of Christmas.    

Trinbagonians are fundamentally a generous people as can be seen when there are appeals in the media for assistance from desperate students, homeless families or people with medical emergencies. Once their plight has been aired, they are beneficiaries of spontaneous largesse. The response is immediate and compassionate.

The Office of the President has also been a beneficiary of this munificence. Our Citizen True initiative, a four-year youth development programme designed to create committed citizens, has received generous support from several corporate sponsors—they are indeed a Pool of Patriots—and I take this opportunity to thank them profusely. But we all can be more generous, even without forking out money. We can donate our time and talent to worthy causes—sometimes, just our presence can be a present. Let us intensify our giving in 2020.

Let’s talk about common courtesy—the pleasant and obliging customer service rendered to the public during the Christmas period should be routine and consistent all year round. And just as we are all a bit more accommodating on the nation’s highways and byways at this time of year, can’t we have the same respect for the safety of our fellow motorists every day? The recklessness and impatience regularly played out on our roads cause avoidable loss of life and financial hardship. In the spirit of Christmas, let us commit to driving civilly, fully sober, and with respect for the speed limit 24/7.

The effort we make to render our surroundings impeccable at Christmas time is another feature that needs to be spread throughout the year. From the moment December approaches, we take great care to clean and beautify our homes and surroundings. We pass a lick of paint; remove unsightly items from our yards and immediate vicinity; we take responsibility for the tidying and enhancement of communal areas. There is absolutely no reason that individuals and communities cannot keep this spirit going throughout the year to ensure that their environment remains hygienic and pleasing to the eye.

These are but a few examples of what we citizens can do, should we exemplify the Christmas spirit for twelve months instead of just one.

Amid the hustle, bustle and merriment of Christmas, can we please set aside some time to contemplate why we, as a nation, generally pack away this magnanimity with our Christmas decorations, only to dust it off and bring it back out when we start hearing parang on the radio?

The twelve days of Christmas is a most opportune time, as we move towards the new year and decade, to do a bit of reviewing and planning, look back with satisfaction at the boxes we’ve ticked, and look forward to checking off yet more as we roll into 2020. While in no way minimising the unhappier events of 2019, such as an increasing incidence of wanton and violent crime, continuing job loss, devastating flooding and tragic road deaths, we, each and every one of us, must take personal responsibility, and think of how many of those circumstances could have turned out differently, if we had only spoken or acted in the Christmas spirit which is in essence the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The climate at Christmastime—of generosity, consideration, tolerance, love and courtesy—gives us the template to do better, so even while we are wrapped up in the festive season, let us remember to carry its attitudes and ideals into the New Year and maintain them all year through. It is my hope and prayer that Trinidad and Tobago will in time enter into everlasting joy, peace, fulfilment and prosperity.

The staff at the Office of the President and I wish you all a joyous Christmas.

 Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

And may God bless our nation.