This is supposed to be that of love, charity and good will. Though all these have been drastically commercialized, yet there is still a glimmer or two of this spirit appearing in odd places. Living in Cairo, Egypt, where the majority of the population is Muslim, I have seen the manifestation of the true spirit of Christmas prevailing under the oddest of circumstances.
I just read about a very old woman, living in a small room, under the stairs of a rundown dilapidated building in a very poor sector of town, calling an NGO for collection of four blankets that she wants to donate to those who are without, especially after the last, unprecedented cold spell. This is a very poor woman, living off a pension that can barely keep her at subsistence level, yet she cut from that to buy blankets for those whom she deems less fortunate. Her generosity overwhelmed the representative of the NGO, and on returning to the office told his colleagues about her. They got together and decided to take up a collection to send to her. Knowing her pride would not allow her to take what might be perceived as charity, they decided to call her and say that her name was among those in a draw for winning a prize and that she won, they told her the amount. She thanked them and told them to please give it to another NGO that distributes meals to the needy. Her generosity, her spirit of giving, generated a wider circle of generosity, which is exactly the spirit of Christmas.
Another story is that of the movement started among the people to gather money or donate clothes to the poor. This call has been to the tune that each person who is well to do should go through their closets, storage boxes, and go through all the clothes that they no longer use, put them aside for donation. As we do not have Goodwill to undertake this service, it is now left to individual effort. It is called upon to take these extra clothes with you in the car and just stop whenever you see someone who can do with a jacket or coat, get out of the car and give them whatever you feel they need. This movement has taken off like wildfire.
The spirit of Christmas is prevalent not only during this season, but happens to manifest itself as well during other seasons of the year. During the very hot summer months there are traffic policemen stationed on flyovers and highways under extremely cruel weather conditions. It is a common sight to see a car stopping next to these policemen and offering them cold bottled water. A simple gesture, but one, nevertheless, that is essential health wise to these people. A gesture of generosity and thoughtfulness which is universal among the people, prompted by a spirit of goodwill towards mankind, and one of basic goodness.
Another all year gesture of charity, which is still a smart way of handling a difficult situation is one to do with street children. These are usually placed by certain ruthless “bosses” on street corners and at highly congested traffic stops, to beg. It is quite well known that these children are not allowed to use the money they get to buy themselves anything, they have to turn in all their money to the boss and rely on his generosity to feed them. This generosity is not always forthcoming. To bypass this compounded crime, people now always keep chocolates and biscuits in their cars. Instead of giving these children money, they are given food, which they devour on the spot. It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming to see them eat. But at least they have some nourishment for that day.
The equivalent of a soup kitchen is set up during the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Long tables with chairs are provided by the affluent, and a full meal is served to whoever needs one and stops by for it at sundown when the day-long fast is broken. The charity of feeding the poor is one of the most important during that holy month of Ramadan. This is again taken up in a different way, right throughout the year. The affluent people who are aware of the state of poverty in the country have now gotten into the habit of ensuring that all the food not consumed after a large social function is boxed up and shipped to an NGO called the Food Bank, that distributes them to the needy. This happens throughout the year, it does not need Ramadan or Christmastime for it to happen.
This feeling of generosity, of charity of goodwill is now prevalent among the Egyptian people. It no longer needs to be one of material donations but the spirit of Christmas has now manifested itself in a far more basic feeling of solidarity and love between Muslims and Christians. A call has gone out and is now snowballing for all Muslims to join their Christian friends and neighbors in and around the churches on the 24th December, western Christmas Eve, on the 31st December, New Year’s Eve and on the 6th January eastern Christmas Eve. This is a spirit of unity and solidarity, a spirit of generosity and love, that epitomizes the spirit of Christmas. In joining their Christian friends, Muslims are sending a very strong message to the terrorists who have been targeting Christians at an escalating rate over the past three years, that if they perpetrate any violence against the Christians, they will be attacking Egyptians of both religions. That Christians and Muslims are one entity, a message of pure love.
In a country where the majority of the people are Muslims, the spirit of Christmas seems to prevail very strongly the year round.