By Joachim Ng
Run to the stores if you haven’t bought your gifts yet! This is the season to be merry and spread Yuletide cheer. It’s good for the economy, and good for the nation’s social health as well.
Amidst the jingle bells, carolling and feasting, you may remember the story of three wise men bearing gifts for the newborn Jesus. The three gifts — myrrh, gold, and frankincense — carry symbolic meanings that can be made locally relevant. Myrrh can be interpreted to signify the winter solstice, celebrated as Tangyuan or Tong Yuen Festival by the Chinese (Dec 22); gold is for Christmas (Dec 25); and frankincense marks the eve of new year (Dec 31).
Some explanation about winter solstice: Dec 22 (often Dec 21) has been a crucial date to farmers in northern countries as it marks the year’s longest night and the abyss of dark winter. In freezing cold, farmers celebrate the deep end of a year and hope for the lengthening of daylight time so that they can begin replanting.
The Chinese people were traditionally farmers — just like the Malays and Indians. So, to this day, Chinese Malaysians celebrate the winter solstice by eating a special farm dish of sweetened round glutinous rice dumplings (tangyuan or tongyuen) cooked in ginger soup (also known as tang or tong). This is why it is called Tangyuan Festival.
In North European traditions, all three occasions are celebrated jointly in a delightful stretch embracing the solstice or winter’s longest night, the nativity or birth of Jesus in a farm setting; and the joyous new year eve. These three occasions falling in rapid succession on Dec 22, 25 and 31 present opportunities for Malaysians to bear three wise gifts for one another. Do share these three wise gifts:
Gift of a smile. The art of saying “Merry Christmas” is to do it with a big smile. A smile lights up your face with gladness and spreads happiness to the other person at no cost. Hence, the most pleasing gift you can make is a smile. An alternative greeting is “Happy Yearend” or “Selamat Akhir Tahun” said with a broad smile to wish for that person happy times in the last remaining days of the year.
Gift package. A suitably wrapped Christmas or Yearend gift is the most appreciated because it denotes that you value the recipient. Beyond the usual gift exchange circles such as your lunch buddies or relatives, you can present wrapped gifts to persons who render basic services such as gardeners, cleaning ladies, guards and waste removers. Just guessing what’s in the package stimulates joy, and they will likely reciprocate your appreciation of them by staying efficient on the job.
Gift of relationship. The Christmas tree that you see in every shopping mall and many, many homes signifies life. Plastic doesn’t quite work the magic, of course. Europeans would buy a small evergreen from a tree farm, stand it in a pot filled with soil or stones and water it to ensure the tree stays alive. Decorated and candle-lit, it then becomes a focal point gathering people around.
In the mid-19th century, a biologist named Charles Darwin unearthed one of science’s greatest discoveries — the tree of life. That’s a metaphor to denote that all living organisms on planet earth are interlinked and related, just like parts of a tree. We are the family of Mother Nature — humans, animals, and plants. It’s a deep all-inclusive web of relationships that we must learn to cherish. This is the most significant of the three wise gifts: the gift of relationship. So let’s spend connection time to enlarge our circle of friends and give it a touch of the nation’s multi-ethnic and cultural diversity.