Christmas has always had a magical appeal that moves people to go out of their way to please their loved ones.
It is a time that calls for energy and patience as parents drag restless toddlers through crowded shopping malls to try on new Christmas clothes and make sure they fit.
Back in the day the older generation avoided much of the mad modern Christmas rush because there were fewer shops and money was tighter – and they had their priorities right.
I still remember clearly that some young folks marked Christmas day wearing their “tshega” (a heart shaped piece of cloth that was used to cover the essentials) and only got round to enjoying the festive celebrations after looking after then kraaling their cattle. Christmas day did not disrupt the social order unnecessarily.
The issue of priorities is one that leads me to this week’s customary court scenario where Amos, who was ordinarily known as peace loving gentle man, appeared before me in a case of common assault just five days before Christmas. He was charged for assaulting his lovely wife Thandiwe.
When the charge sheet was read, Amos shyly pleaded guilty and showed remorse as he told court that he had never had to use violence against his wife in the 15 years of their marriage. When the criminal aspect of the matter was over and done with, I took it upon myself to provide counselling, and this led to Amos exposing the circumstances that led to the unfortunate quarrel.
With a take home pay below P1000 a month, Amos was struggling financially to support himself and his wife who earned very little as a street vendor.
For many years he had been saving to buy a tractor so that he could offer a service to farmers during the ploughing season. He had already identified a second hand tractor and was just about to see his dream come true when out of the blue Thandiwe started nagging about the need to buy new sofas to impress her parents who would be visiting them for the first time that Christmas.
Amos did not just find the idea ludicrous, he was also annoyed by the suggestion that his life savings should be diverted to entertain and impress his in-laws, who in any case understood their financial difficulties. The frustrated man said at the height of their argument, Thandiwe had shouted humiliating words to the effect that: “Tota keneke itshwenyetsa eng kagore gao monna selo ke wena” (‘Why did I even bother myself about you since you are not even a man’) This provoked Amos to assault his wife in full view of their 10 year-old-son, and led to her reporting the matter to the police.
Thandiwe then requested that she be given an opportunity to ask her husband a few question for clarity.
Thandiwe: Are you aware that you have never taken the family for Christmas shopping?
Amos: I never saw the need, and you know that I cannot afford that with the size of our family.
Thandiwe: Are you aware that our children are always the only ones without new clothes?
Amos: Yes I know and I have always explained to my children my difficult situation.
Thandiwe briefly spoke just to put on record her feelings on how insensitive Amos had been by saving for a tractor at the expense of Christmas celebrations.
Amos made a low-keyed remark to the effect that Christmas day would come and go, but his tractor would help them to build a better future.
Their parallel views made reconciliation a tough task.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
In trying to bring the parties together I had to consider the following points:
- Amos had painfully saved for a specific objective.
- He strongly felt that to divert the funds would be gross negligence on his part.
- Amos refused to be pressurized by the Christmas fever.
- Thandiwe wanted a more material demonstration of her husband’s worth in her attempt to improve her social status.
- When she failed to persuade her husband to splash the cash she chose to humiliate him.
- The brevity of the Christmas celebration had been pushed into oblivion by the desperate desire to impress her parents momentarily.
Just before I shared my thoughts with them, Amos openly wept, partly to let out his bottled emotions but also out of self-pity. He had not only failed to please his wife, he had also taken out his frustration by resorting to physical violence.
When he found his breath he softly said: “A re ko rene re itekanyetsa morwalo, le rona retlaa goroga” (‘Let us live within our limits, one day we shall also make it.’)
It was a heartfelt appeal that Thandiwe was able to accepted and understand, and as the two embraced it was obvious that along with their priorities, their love and faith in each other had been restored.
The lesson from the Amos story is that heavy and unnecessary spending over Christmas is usually followed by remorse and a strained budget in January at a time when children have to go to school. It is true that we cannot go back to the days of “tshega,” but in the age of materialism the desire to please should not be measured by the ability to pay.
Merry Christmas and a healthy and debt free 2013 to you all.