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Don’t ignore Christ in Christmas. It’s His Birthday! (A Reflection on Sumanto’s “White Christmas”)

We are celebrating a true Christmas only if Christ is not kept outside or still left in the manger

Christmas is one of the greatest Christian festivals because it is held to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is the birthday of the Savior, who came to the world, lived with the sinful people, and redeemed their sins to restore their relationship with God. Since it is His birthday party, the essential reason for the celebration must be Christ.

People are used to optimizing their resources so that their Christmas celebrations are held in a comfortable and bright room with beautiful decorations and sparkling lights. Dressed in fancy cloth, they enjoy abundant food and drinks, sing and dance accompanied by beautiful music, and laugh happily while sharing Christmas gifts or when Santa Claus distributes presents. Ironically, they forget one thing: the parties are held without Christ, the person whose birthday is supposed to be celebrating. Instead of being in the celebration comfortable rooms, He is still left in a manger in a dark stable somewhere far away.

Such irony is the focus of “Krismas Putih” (“White Christmas”) a poem written by Bakdi Sumanto in 1987 in Oberlin, Ohio, while he was studying at Oberlin College of the Northern Illinois University. The poem was included in the anthology entitled “Kata” published in 2006 by Bentang Pustaka. It was translated by John H. McGlynn and was published with 68 poems of various Indonesian in the anthology titled “On Foreign Shores: American Images in Indonesian Poetry” by The Lontar Foundation (1990).

Written in 35 lines in seven stanzas, “White Christmas” is a narrative poem that tells the events related to ‘pseudo’ Christmas celebration in Oberlin, Ohio. It is a pseudo-Christmas because despite their belief they were celebrating Christmas, they did not realize it was essentially not Christmas. 

The narrator starts by bluntly telling that Christmas which is supposed to be “white” did not come to Oberlin because “The snow was postponed” and “the weather was changed”. However, people thought these snow delays and weather changes were just natural anomaly. Using their reasoning, they speculated the anomaly was simply due to “air pollution” and “rising temperature”.

     White Christmas
     didn’t come to Oberlin
     The snow was postponed,
     the weather was changed
     people speculated
     about air pollution
     and rising temperatures

Their belief in the naturalness of the snow delay was then used as a justification to keep on celebrating Christmas, which seemed to have been turned to merely a routine ritual. As usual, they sang “White Christmas” in the church. They ignored how ridiculous it was to sing “White Christmas” because the absence of the snow made the Christmas was not “White” at all. Such ignorance made them able to enjoy the night by drinking champagne, eating abundant bread, and having a pleasant conversation.

     But in the church
     the congregation still sang White Christmas
     as New Year approached civilization remained intact
     that night champagne,
     all sorts of breads, and relaxed
     intellectual conversation

Although the celebration was just a routine ritual, the people were so absorbed in it they the television which occupied their daily leisure time was forgotten. They were immersed in joys through singing and dancing accompanied by music from the piano.

     the television was forgotten
     as the piano played in the corner
     and a woman in red swayed in time
     with her hands dancing in the air

Being so immersed in their joyful activities, never they tried to find out the truth behind the snow postponement. Everything seemed okay. The whole family members were there, and the guests lacked nothing. So, they proceeded to the next routine ritual, i.e. exchanging the gifts to create a livelier atmosphere. The gift exchange did heighten their joy cheerfulness.

     White Christmas
     didn’t come to Oberlin
     The snow was postponed,
     What they were waiting for?

     They waited for no one, too
     In the den the family gathered
     to defy up the gifts
     and laugh with gaiety and cheer

Meanwhile, the narrator who stayed in his room upstairs saw Christ “standing before the door". He seemed to hesitate to knock at the door and then withdrew. He left the people who now sang “White Christmas” together although the true Christmas season did not come to the region that year.

     Upstairs in my room,
     I stuck my head outside the window
     to see Christ
     standing before the door
     hesitating to knock
     then beating a retreat

     And in the den
     the family and guests
     sang White Christmas
     that didn’t come that year

Through this poem, the narrator invites us to consider the most fundamental essence of a Christmas celebration. By exposing how the people in Oberlin had held a pseudo-Christmas celebration, he calls us to reflect for a moment whether Christmas seasons we had experienced so far were merely routine rituals focusing on our egocentric impulses for earthly pleasure.  

Let’s try to answer the following questions. How many times have experienced Christmas celebrations without realizing that Christ was uninvolved? How many times have we held Christmas parties without realizing that Christ, the person whose birthday is supposed to be celebrating is not there? How many times have we been so obsessed to organize monumental Christmas celebrations held in a super big church, a five-star hotel, or in a gigantic stadium, to which we mobilized all resources and invited thousands of people, but we forgot to invite Christ? Let’s have a Christmas celebration in which Christ is not kept outside or still left in a manger in a cool dark stable somewhere far away.


Author : Parlindungan Pardede (parlin@weedutap.com)

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