Beautiful Colombo is putting on a party – the Christmas spirit is all-encompassing. It is apt then to reflect on what makes Sri Lankans so unique.
Religious tolerance has been one of Sri Lankan society’s strongest characteristics. With communities embracing four of the world’s greatest beliefs, Sri Lankans have traditionally accepted and rejoiced in the various festivals. Communities that followed other faiths revelled in the joy of Vesak, festooning their premises with lanterns and lights; Muslims shared the traditional biriyani and watalappam with their non-Muslim friends; Hindus distributed Deepavali sweets and shared delicious Thai Pongal goodies and Christians celebrated Christmas with their non-Christian friends exuberantly. That situation was put to the gravest test a couple of years ago when religious intolerance seemed to get an approving nod; fortunately good sense prevailed as that scourge was nipped in the bud.
Christmas is one such time when the whole of Sri Lanka, especially in Colombo gathers together to put on a great party. Even the humblest of shops will have some sort of tinsel, glistening with whimsical greetings on their window fronts. Colombo city takes on a festive air with roundabouts decorated with Christmas trees, stars and fairy lights.
In the past, even the street lamps would be draped with fairy lights, however this year that was sadly absent. Still, the streets appear very festive as tinsel and decorations glisten in the bright noonday sun. Shopping malls and supermarkets are bedecked with every imaginable decorative accessory as nostalgic Christmas music is played. This atmosphere makes the most jaded reveller misty eyed and sentimental.
The radio plays wonderful Christmas music and everywhere there are pop up Polas and Sales filled with frenzied shoppers.
Supermarkets put on seasonal delicacies like Honey Hams, Turkeys and confectionery. It is no wonder then that Sri Lankans domiciled in other parts of the world zero in on Colombo to share in some small way in the Christmas revelry.
There is no doubt that Sri Lankans have a lot to be proud of: their legendary easygoing manner, their readiness to smile, their resilience, their inherent tolerance towards visitors and the happy-go-lucky island lifestyle. These traits have put us in a league apart. Sri Lankan generosity is renowned – we lead the world in eye donations. In the recently concluded survey that measured the world’s ‘Giving Index’ Sri Lanka ranked 9th. That is something to be truly proud of. In fact, the report found that a nation’s economic prosperity doesn’t automatically translate to generosity.
It may not be surprising that the United States, one of the most affluent countries in the world, came on top as the most generous nation. What is more startling is that the accolade is shared with Myanmar, a nation ranked 151 spots lower than the U.S. on the GDP per capita scale.
Only five of the countries in this year’s World Giving Index Top 20 are members of the G20, a forum of the world’s largest economies. Less affluent places like Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago featured in the top 10.
Other factors, like following a religious philosophy or responding to a natural disaster, were found to be major drivers of donations. Myanmar earned its top place mainly due to the fact that nearly all of the respondents, 91 percent donated money to charity, a practice which is ingrained in the country’s Theravada Buddhist community. Sri Lanka with a large population of Buddhists ranked ninth.
Reflecting on these remarkable facts, Christmas is perhaps a time for introspective thought. Christmas brings the message of peace – the Christ Child born in a lowly manger on that momentous night. It is an ideal time to truly immerse oneself in the true spirit of Christmas. There should be revelry and celebration but that could be tempered with acts of charity and a thought for the less fortunate. Christmas is then truly a time to show the world just why we on our little island ranked 9th on a World Charity Index and bring home the message of charity.
Pics by Chandana Wijesinghe