Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men: Vraie Balthazaar on celebrating this season with kindness

This Christmas is complex. While some of us have made it through the rollercoaster ride that has been 2020 relatively unharmed, and are looking forward to celebrating this Christmas, there are many of us who are still very much struggling.


The Morning Brunch spoke with researcher and activist Vraie Balthazaar on ways people can use this Christmas season to support a cause or person in need in small but powerful ways.


“2020 has obviously been a very difficult and unexpected year. We were thrown into the deep end, and different people have faced different challenges; we’ve been forced into situations we haven’t been in before in our own homes and spaces, losing things like our jobs and worrying about our children, our elderly, and our security,” Balthazar shared.


Vraie Balthazaar

“It’s been an extremely challenging year for everybody across the board, and we’re still trying to understand what that means. For some people, it meant taking time off to reassess themselves, and for others, it meant losing everything they ever had.”


While the pandemic has been a global experience and something of a unifier, Balthazar noted that it wasn’t an equaliser. People from specific business sectors, low-income communities, and daily wage earners have been impacted more than others in the face of the pandemic. And going into the festive season, Balthazar shared that it was important to remember those who are struggling.


“Personally, even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, my family does and the season is a tradition I hold onto and cherish. I always enjoy being able to share presents and meet people. This year, putting up a tree is symbolically the only way we’re celebrating. Financially, too, we can’t afford to celebrate like we did last year; we had about 70 people on our list. This year we simply can’t afford that, and all things considered, we shouldn’t really try to celebrate like that either,” Balthazar shared, adding that this, however, doesn’t mean we cannot acknowledge the people around us and celebrate with your family. He said that while we’re celebrating, if we can remember that there are others struggling and help them, it is going to be what changes who we are.


But how can we celebrate consciously while making a difference to those who are struggling? Balthazaar explained that it’s not as difficult as it sounds, and there are lots of small things we can do that can make a difference, individually, as a family, or as a collective.


“I know it’s late, and most people have already decided and sorted out what gifts to give their loved ones. But you can give people presents like a card saying you’ve donated a certain amount to a specific charity in their names. Sri Lanka is already a culture of alms and charitable giving, and this kind of gift plays into that spirit with a symbolic gesture.”


One family Balthazaar knows is organising hampers for families and using the money they would normally use to buy gifts for each to buy things for other families who can’t celebrate.


“If we can have a year of understanding how bad this year has been for other people, it’s a good way to teach people about giving, being selfless, being kind, and putting others above themselves. This is a good time to reflect on this sort of thing. Generally, things of this nature are a side project people do, but this year, this is something they can do in a slightly more intense way. Let this year be about this – shopping for people who are less fortunate and being thankful that we are able to do so.”


Balthazar also spoke about supporting causes and organisations, explaining that not many people fully understand just how many people in Colombo are still in lockdown and have no mobility. “This season, if we can find a way to connect and support daily wage earners and low-income communities around the island, even in some small way, either through people and organisations, that would be very impactful.”


Such support doesn’t have to be simply through money, Balthazar stressed, noting that organisations are always happy to work with anyone willing to lend a hand and help them whether through time, expertise, or simply supporting whenever possible.


“Organisations are run by very passionate people who don’t have a lot of resources. People, animals, and the environment are all interconnected,” Balthazaar explained, adding: “If this can be how we look at 2021, to set aside a portion of time to learn about something that is higher than ourselves, we can then give back in a different, more meaningful way.”