I asked four little girls in tudung what it meant: "Apa erti Kristmas dik?" They giggled and pushed the eldest one forward. She answered simply, "Hari kanak-kanak." A day for children indeed.
I then asked their father."Tak tahulah. Ini semua Orang Putih punya." He was clearly not impressed with the white man’s festival other than the festivities.
An Aussie couple was trying to decipher the local tapestry of religious festivals. "We are still trying to take it all in. Only recently you celebrated Deepavali, then Ramadan, now Christmas and soon the "Year of the Kangaroo!" Then it would be Easter I suppose. Don’t you guys ever take a break?"
A young Chinese man next to me was trying to squeeze his female companion together with as much of the six-storey tall Christmas tree into his Nokia phone camera screen. He managed somehow to do that and showed me the power shot, looking pleased with his toy.
What’s Christmas to him? He flashed back without any further need for reflection. "Holiday lah ! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Santa was behind us, posing for a child together with Santarina. The mother would have to fork out RM10 for this pose. However, if she had spent RM50 on a single receipt in any of the shops, she would get a 50 per cent discount. This is a win-win transaction. Mummy got the Xmas pix while Santa and his gal got to keep the change. Ho! Ho! Ho! But what is Christmas?
Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers away in the Middle East where the first Christmas was celebrated, the bedlam of killing continues to take its deadly toll.
But Christmas was a divinely ordained moment in history, faithfully recorded in the holy scriptures of the People of the Book – the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. This was to remind us that all was not lost. There was still hope despite the grim realities.
That’s why we still remember CHRISTmas or the rejoicing over the birth of Christ with the Latin word "mass" signifying a liturgical celebration.
What about the tree and Santa? That came later, something the Orang Putih and merchandisers cooked up.
The People of the Book, however, are all in one accord regarding the first Christmas and its sanctity.
The Qur’an narrates the virgin birth of Jesus in Surah Ali Imran in verses 45 and 47: "Behold! The angels said: "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.
"She said: "O my Lord ! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "even so: Allah createth what He willeth: when He hath decreed a Plan, He but saith to it, "Be; and it is!"
According to the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel in verses 18 and 21, Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. She would give birth to a son, and she was to give him the name Jesus.
Isaiah had prophesied in chapter 7 verse 14 in the Old Testament book named after him: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (meaning God with us, a name that became a title for the Messiah)." Against all statistical probability, this 700-year old prophecy was consummated on the first Noel or Yuletide 2,000 years ago.
Isaiah also made another astounding prophecy nearly three millennia ago. In the last three verses of chapter 19 of his oracle he had prophesied: "In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria (now Iraq). The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and the Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."
Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, the largest Arab country, possibly had a glimpse of the promised highway of peace when he made an unprecedented journey in 1977 to Israel and addressed its Parliament, the Knesset, with a peace offering. Four years later, he was gunned down by fanatics within his own country.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin probably shared this vision when he also made a peace offering in 1995 with the PLO’s Yasser Arafat that would eventually lead to an autonomous Palestinian entity. He too was gunned down a month later.
Sadly, the other end of the promised highway of peace in Iraq had just been blown to smithereens by US occupation forces although President George W. Bush did roll out a roadmap for Middle East peace as an afterthought.
Dare we hope for the promised highway of peace that would straddle the fertile crescent all the way from Egypt, through Israel and to Iraq?
Isaiah’s prophecy about the first Christmas came to pass, down to the last detail. There is therefore hope that God’s promise of an enduring peace in the Middle East will also come to pass, perhaps in an even more dramatic fashion. God’s promise transcends political configurations. Pessimism is thus not an option this Christmas.
Have a blessed Christmas. Semoga Natal anda diberkati.