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What’s Christmas really about?

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.

Merry Christmas.

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