With Christmas just a couple of days away, we know that there are millions of human beings in refugee camps all over the world, most notably in various countries of the Middle East, but also in Africa and Asia, even Europe. Over the years, Belizeans have often spent Christmas in various Mexican jails, because of immigration, narcotics, and other charges. These have been private, family pains. In Belize, we have accepted refugees from Guatemala, Salvador, and Nicaragua because of the wars in those Central American republics and harsh economic conditions at their socio-economic bases. This acceptance of refugees process in Belize began more than four decades ago in an informal way, then it became formalized through the United Nations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But, the present reality of thousands of Cubans spending Christmas in refugee camps in Costa Rica is a new consciousness for us in Belize, and even in the region.
Christmas is, of course, a very special time of the year. We refer to it as a “season,” a season of peace and goodwill to all men. The traditions that we have in Belize with respect to Christmas, began with the Christian religious beliefs brought here by the European Baymen, and then those beliefs were affected by Belizeans’ mahogany camp experiences, which were secular in nature. On Christmas Day, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem in a manger. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that God The Father sent His Only-Begotten Son to save us from our sins. Thus, Christians celebrate. The mahogany camp experiences involved men spending months in the forests cutting mahogany and transporting same to river banks for the logs to be floated down to the Haulover Creek and the Belize City harbor. At Christmas time, the mahogany camps closed down (“camp bruk”), the workers received relatively large amounts of money, and they headed to Belize Town with months of social energy stored up and big money in their pockets. Christmas, a religious holiday, became a secular bacchanalia in the capital, a time of excesses where food, drinks, dance, sex and so on were concerned.
There are limits to what a human being can know, but there are no limits to what a human being can believe. That is our submission to you, dear readers. We know with our minds, but we believe with our souls. We cannot know what happens after death, for example, but we can have certain beliefs about an afterlife. Muslims, the second largest body of believers on planet earth, do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God: Muslims believe that Jesus was a great prophet, but they do not believe that He was/is divine. On the other hand, the divinity of Christ is a core belief of Christians, who are the largest group of believers in the world. Muslims believe that there is One God (no Trinity), and that Muhammad is His prophet. All over the world today, Muslims and Christians are killing each other in the name of their respective religious beliefs. It seems that for most human beings, faith is more important than knowledge.
Much of the passion of organized religion derives from our beliefs about the afterlife. In the absence of any definitive knowledge about a terminal development which all human beings have either experienced or will inevitably experience, that is, the afterlife, most human beings rely on religious beliefs, what we call faith. Most human beings are willing to argue about their religious beliefs, and some are willing to fight for these beliefs.
Today, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, there are bloody conflicts raging in the world which feature religion as the specific banner, or cause, of the combatants. In some cases, the problem actually involves deadly divisions inside the larger, original religion. But, there are also serious secular concerns fueling all these conflicts and wars. One of these concerns is business. There are companies which manufacture all the armaments men use to slaughter each other, and there are many executives and shareholders of these corporate facilitators of death who are faithful followers of their specific religion. They go to church on Sunday, and sell destruction on Monday. Another concern fueling the conflicts and wars is political and military power, which is, ultimately, related to business. Human beings, as basically organized in nation-states, are fighting to control territory and resources: human beings want to live and live well, so they have always believed that there are some human beings they have to kill, for the benefit of themselves, their children, and their children’s children.
Christmas is supposed to mark a break in all the conflict and strife. In order to establish that break, however, the tradition in Belize, as in other parts of the Christian world, is that we have to prepare enough food and drink to last several days and enable us to entertain friends and relatives. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, then, there is a flurry of economic energy as we try to “si wi Christmas” (see our Christmas). A very, very important amount of that energy is dedicated to buying special gifts for our children. Many of us still send Christmas cards to our friends, wishing them the season’s greetings. These are, strictly speaking, secular aspects of Christmas, but they originate with the religious happiness having to do with the birth of the Christ Child, the Saviour and Redeemer.
In Belize, there are many of us who cannot organize a whole day’s quantum of meals, much less food and drink for a season lasting several days. For the people of the street, Christmas is the worst time of the year, because everybody else is behind closed doors in their homes celebrating with family and friends. In line with this, we note that there has been an increasingly sympathetic consciousness during the Christmas season of those amongst us who are less fortunate. Those with much are giving to those with less. As long as you did it for them, the least of My brethren, you did it for Me. Ah Belizeans, it is truly in giving that we receive. Bless up.
And now, we return to the crisis and suffering of our Cuban brethren and sistren in Costa Rica. We agree with the Nicaraguans: this is a humanitarian crisis caused by a law which the United States of America designed more than fifty years ago as part of their war against a small island called Cuba. It is the mighty United States of America which should attend to this crisis, not Costa Rica or the rest of Central America. Belize has always opened its arms in welcome to refugees, except, notoriously, when they came from Haiti as children clinging to the stern of a ship, and it pains Belizeans that we are not in a position to assist the Cuban refugees in Costa Rica. The United States is one of the great Christian nations of the world. If the Americans truly believe in Christ the Savior, let them address this tragedy. They have all the resources in the world so to do.
Merry Christmas, Belize. Let us love one another. So far, we have been truly blessed.