I have never really understood why the celebration of the birth of Jesus – Christmas – has become, in the west at least and particularly, perhaps, in the UK and the USA, a time for over-indulgence in all things. People eat too much, drink too much and spend vast amounts of money on expensive presents for friends and family.
I am not a Christian but Jesus, if we are to believe the bible, valued poverty and humility. He threw the money lenders from the temple and said that the meek would inherit the earth. Yet, in celebration of his birth, the poor and weak of the world are mostly forgotten in an orgy of spending and over-consumption.
If you are one of those who will eat, drink and be merry this Christmas, stop for a while and consider this short passage which comes from a piece written by Nash Colundalur, amateur winner of the 2009 Guardian International Development Journalism Competition. It describes a scene in Turkana, Northern Kenya.
The vast expanse of the harsh landscape is broken by a gathering of a few hundred people, standing and crouched down in an unruly circle, all eyes focused on the centre. Emotions are running high among the ashen women, with some having slumped and collapsed to the ground. The men, desperately trying to take control of the situation, wave their long sticks furiously and yell agitatedly into the circle. Bellowing goats, sheep and cattle recklessly try to break into the ring.
They are all desperate for water. Abumon throws her arms up in the air, breaks out of the circle and in resignation crashes to the ground. She looks fretfully into the horizon. “I don’t care any more, I will die here.” She lifts a weak arm to point at the mountains. ‘They will come and take everything.” She beckons her small, severely malnourished child towards her. Suddenly there is great clamour from within the circle. A small container is making its way up, passed from hand to hand. A fresh flurry of yelling and stick-brandishing follows from the men, until the yellow plastic container finally arrives. The black sludgy water is first fed to the children, who lap it up quickly and cry for more.
This Christmas 10 million turkeys will be killed and eaten in the UK. Added to the 45 million that have just met the same fate in the US for Thanksgiving, this represents one of the largest death tolls in such a short time period for any creature.
According to animal welfare charity Viva!, turkeys have a zest for living and, treated with respect, they become very friendly. Wild turkeys live in North and Central America and, apparently, Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird of the US instead of the Bald Eagle. They are striking and handsome, graceful and intelligent. They roost in trees and roam in woodlands, eating vegetation and insects. They live in harems – the mothers being very protective of their young. An adult bird can fly up to 50mph.
How sad then that they have become the food of choice for what is supposedly a Christian festival.
This is poet Benjamin Zephaniah’s plea for this cruelly abused and much maligned bird:
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos’ turkeys just wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don’t eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate, an not on your plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I’m on your side.
I got lots of friends who are turkeys
An all of dem fear christmas time,
Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it
An humans are out of dere mind,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer an his wife.
Turkeys just wanna play reggae
Turkeys just wanna hip-hop
Can yu imagine a nice young turkey saying,
‘I cannot wait for de chop’,
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me.
I once knew a turkey called…Turkey
He said “Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?”,
I said “I am not too sure turkey
But it’s nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy an waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash’.
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
Invite dem indoors fe sum greens
Let dem eat cake an let dem partake
In a plate of organic grown beans,
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
An spare dem de cut of de knife,
Join Turkeys United an dey’ll be delighted
An yu will mek new friends ‘FOR LIFE’.