ROTTERDAM – I don’t know about you, my dear friend, but there’ll be no holiday spirit for me this year. I don’t feel the warm glow and tis definitely not the season.
Christmas in this part of the world is cold and wet, not white and crispy. It’ll most likely rain, and it’ll be windy, too.
Inside, we’ll have candlelight and spiced wine; poultry and chocolate. I am not sure if we’ve decided on the tree just yet. I’ve heard that tree-Christmas is wasteful for the trees involved. Maybe we’ll go green this year, and decorate the windowstill instead.
Even if we were to overcome the guilt of tree murder and purchase a modestly-sized pine, I cannot seem to catch the Christmas fervor, – that fuzzy warm feeling. Maybe I ought to get a friend to spike my politically incorrect eggnog.
‘Twas Christmas Eve… not that the particular date matters. It could be the day before Christmas Eve. Hell, I am writing this on the 17th of December. A part of me screams that whether or not *they* know it’s Christmas time really is not a relevant question we should be asking ourselves.
But, for the sake of my narrative, let’s assume that it indeed was Christmas Eve.
Let’s assume all of us rose to the occassion. Let’s assume some of us got bedeviled into listening to Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas once too many times. I got a X-Mas tie and everything. My family dinners during Christmas are not quite secular enough to actually feel jolly but we have our own version of that, I imagine. No ho-ho-ho’s, though. Christmas tree is still optional.
This year’s Christmas might be more political, also. That vague sense of guilt when you look at the dinner table, whose legs are almost succumbing to the sheer volume of food stacked on it, will not be enough this year. This year’s Christmas requires a bigger sacrifice for your decadence.
The churches in this little town I find myself in have, in collaborative effort, published a page-wide advertisement in the regional newspaper this year.
JESUS WAS BORN HOMELESS
it reads. Pope Francis said that. A photo of a staged homeless girl laying on some newspapers and wrapped in a blanket on the town’s square very well illustrates the lack of stables, I guess.
And it’s true: Jesus’ parents were Middle-Eastern refugees, and Jesus was born homeless. The fact that Syrian children are seldomly called Jesus really shouldn’t change the validity of the comparison.
Yesterday, I attended a Christmas concert. I rushed outside to smoke before the others made it through the queue. Outside standing was a homeless man. I had seen him before. Every night, he stands outside the Concert building with an empty cup, greeting everyone in a monotone voice, obviously a bit inebriated sometimes.
evenin’, ladies and gentlemen, evenin’ ladies and gentlemen, evenin’ ladies ‘n gentlemen, ‘venin’ ladies ‘n gentlemen, ‘venin’ ladies ‘n gentlemen, good evenin’, good evenin’, good evenin’ ladies and gentlemen…
People walked outside discussing the magic of the Christmas concert and avoided eye contact with this smelly stranger.
‘Twas Christmas Eve, and three refugees came knocking on your door. You vote social-democratic and you think that if people try and make it all the way from Syria to here via boat, train, or even by foot, we as a country should be generous in our duty, and welcome them.
Maybe you even donated money to some campaign, or gave your old winter clothes away to the Red Cross.
Yet they knock on your door. Not the local emergency refugee centre’s door, or the door of the police station. No, your door. Your door. And you open. The bells on that stupid garland hanging on the outside of said door ring in the silence that follows.
They don’t really speak English. You don’t know what they’re doing there, or what they want from you. Money? Food? A bed? You’re living in what used to be a yuppie neighborhood sometime in the past and you wonder how the hell they got here. It’s nowhere near a train station, really.
Now, statistically speaking, most of this unspecified group of refugees knocking on your door, are men. You don’t know if they’re related. They can’t tell you either.
You feel a bit helpless. Should they stay here? I mean, here? You don’t have enough food for everyone and your family must be wondering why the carol singers are singing so softly that they cannot be heard from the living room.
Of course, if you haven’t send them away already in a panicking response to an unknown situation, you have to do something. After all, you read about those people who house Syrian refugees in their own homes. But surely, those people are screened beforehand, right? And you can prepare for them staying here.
This is getting rather uncomfortable. You let them in. Communicate with hand and foot and spontaneously they turn out to be really nice people.
Now let’s rewind. It’s not Christmas yet, anyways. It’s the 17th of December. Right now, someone rings your door bell. And there’s 2 Syrian guys standing there. They don’t speak English. You’re not quite sure what it is they want.
What do you do now?
I once tried to explain the Dutch insurance system to a Ugandan. She found it “impersonal”, she said. She said that we got the state to take care of our people so we wouldn’t have to. When her father was in the hospital, heaven and earth were moved to pay for his stay, and to get people to visit.
We have institutionalised our compassion. It’s like a subscription. We vote, we pay taxes, and if necessary, we give some money to charity or to that nice lady that visits your house to collect money for the endangered pandas or cancer research or UNICEF.
Before the immigrant crisis, we had refugee centres were people sometimes stayed for more than 10 years waiting for something official to happen, for them to be accepted as legal citizens of the country their children were being educated in.
Now we have groups of Syrian refugees, some of ’em literally fished out of the Mediterranean, traveling around the country from one sports hall to the next. The Red Cross provides the beds, and each time they stay for about 72 hours as to not disrupt the schedule of the local volleyball team.
In the end, don’t we do all pay our dues to avoid that knocking on Christmas Eve (and any other day)? Don’t we give aid to empower the receivers enough to solve their own problems? Don’t we at least try to designate places, and buildings, and shuttle busses, to streamline the entire process? Geographically determine where, when, and how people are.
Welcome to our country, and Merry Christmas to all! (provided you know it’s Christmas at all, of course)