South African reflection: Christmas in Poverty

  • Puleng Matsaneng

Source: Jesuit Institute South Africa

Trees play a significant role in the world. Even more so in Africa. A tree is a symbol of life and hope. Trees provide space for a chief and his people to hold meetings. They shelter the faithful who use their shade for religious ceremonies. For many centuries we have used trees for medicinal and other purposes.

During this season of advent our focus is drawn to the Jesse tree which represents the ancestry of Jesus and his birth. Many people in Africa believe some trees represent their own ancestors.

My parents never put up a Christmas tree in our home, as is the tradition in many European countries. Instead, during this time, they would use the Jesse tree to take us through the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. As children we were happy to listen to the story coupled with the anticipation of the gifts that my parents would give to us.

At this time of the year many cupboards are overflowing with groceries and fridges are fully stocked with meat and other foods. However, there are over 3 million children in Africa who are malnourished and barely surviving from day to day. This is a significant portion of the hungry population that goes unnoticed.

When I think of places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan and other countries which are faced with war and hunger currently, my heart sinks even further into despair. Families are displaced with no access to food and children find themselves alone and fending for themselves.

The countries which these children go to for refuge, force them to return to their non-existent homes. Immigration policies are used to shut them out. Those in power continue to display an unwelcoming attitude towards displaced people. Many countries claim to believe in basic human rights and follow the philosophies of religions that are filled with positive and practical thoughts about the treatment of strangers. In practice, however, disdain towards strangers and displaced people seems to be growing daily.

This Sunday, as we come to the end of Advent, we get to light all four Advent candles. The candles of hope, faith, joy and peace. On Christmas day we will be unwrapping gifts which were placed under the Jesse tree or Christmas tree. We will be celebrating with food, drink and laughter.

Perhaps, before Christmas, we can play a role in bringing some hope to those who are misplaced by sharing food or gifts with children and their families.

Let us allow ourselves to follow in the footsteps of Mary when she opened her heart to listen to Angel Gabriel. When she visited her cousin Elizabeth, she was welcomed and cared for in a place of peace. Maybe each one of us can bring joy to the situation of at least one child who is hungry, by listening, welcoming and being with them?

Make the joy of Christmas alive in a time of poverty and despair. Let the tree in your home remind you to offer welcome, shelter, healing and life.



Tags: Jesuit Institute South Africa, South Africa, Christmas, Poverty, Puleng Matsaneng

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