Bożena Szara

When Hope is Born

Published also in Polish:

"Gdy nadzieja się rodzi"

Gazeta, Toronto, 14-16 grudnia 2001

Translated by Witold Liliental


Christmas holidays have their own rights. Christmas must be beautiful and festive. Already in the early days of December, we begin to adorn trees and shrubs outside our homes with shining lights.

In the biggest of our rooms we stand a fresh, tall Christmas tree, reaching the ceiling. We hang decorations and tinsel and we get out our Holiday candles from the cupboards. During the Holidays we become better, more inclined to be understanding of others and even of ourselves. Christmas has within it this magic power of reconciliation. We all surrender to this idea of closeness and love and the feeling of togetherness is stronger than at any other time.

This will be the first Christmas in the new Millennium. Our world has changed. We are different than a year ago. The events of the last months have caused us to perceive the world, its people and ourselves in a different light.

Everything is different. Our priorities, our conscience, our life, our relations. Just recently, so busy and in such haste, we have stopped for a brief moment to notice a fellow human being next to us. Usually, it was only Christmas that provided the chance to hug, reach out and touch, to say a few warm words. Throughout the year we had no time for talking no time to be tender, to love. After the events of September, I observe a change coming over us and around us.

More often we allow ourselves to pause for reflection, to ask ourselves where we are headed and what is most important in our lives. We try to tidy up our individual, personal lives. Some decide to reconcile themselves with God, others with their mother, father, bother or sister with whom they had not talked in years. Still others search for answers to questions about the sense of life, about truth and make decisions to change their relations with others. Holidays promote reflections. It is only at this time that the world is once again full of this difficult to explain optimism, the optimism which, unfortunately, ceases when Christmas is gone. Nobody throughout the entire year talks openly about the need for love. Nobody calls for reconciliation and closeness at any time, except when Christmas comes around.

Only last Sunday late evening, in the company of people (mostly) new to me, I listened to words directed to members of two nations: Polish and Jewish, believers of the Christian and Mosaic faith. Before I go on to recount this unusual meeting to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, I need to quote these words:

“At a time of painful crisis in the world, a time of terrorism, war and fighting between people of different nations and diverse religions, often in the name of God, this meeting of ours is like an island of light amidst unexhausted abyss of darkness filled with hate.

Allow me a short moment to reflect on something I would like to hare with you.. Several days ago I had to visit a funeral home to bid farewell to an old friend. Min-Hien was a modest, and shy man of few words. When I arrived for the funeral service, I was taken aback by the great mass of people who came, like myself, came to pay my respects to my late friend. Most of them were his compatriots from Vietnam. Many of them, dressed in ceremonial attire bowed before a photograph of the deceased. I asked Hin-Mien’s daughter, who stood close by, to explain to me the meaning of these bows. She replied that this was the way in which Buddhists pay their respects to a deceased person. I had no idea that my friend had been a Buddhist. Seeing my astonishment, she added: - My father was not only a Buddhist. He was born in an atheist family and for many years je was himself an atheist. After the fall of Saigon, as a result of a deep emotional crisis, he accepted Islam as his religion. Later, when I was getting married, my father allowed himself to be baptized. When my brother turned his religious feelings towards Tibetan Buddhism, my father followed in his footsteps. The majority of my father’s Vietnamese friends are followers of Hinduism, and he himself at one time admitted this denomination into the treasure casket of his religions.”

- How is that possible? – I asked, taken aback. – What was the guiding force that allowed your father to espouse so many diverse religions, religions which are mutually exclusive?

- My father was of the opinion that it is people who are the perpetrators of all unhappiness and wars, and not God. He thought that people were responsible for all religious divisions and that people, abusing the power given to them by God, cause all this unhappiness. God does not recognize nations, races, ethnic groups or religions. God is one and recognizes only one race only: the human race – she ended her response.

“I quoted the words of the a daughter of my friend, because I regard them as important. Equally important is our meeting here today. The meeting of people who can be proud of their multi-centennial cultures, where the time of Hanukkah and the time of Christmas carries with it a special light of harmony, peace and friendship between human beings.”

The author of these reflections was Jan Duniewicz. The meting took place at the home of the Znojkiewicz family, and its organizer was Irena Bellert – President of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada It was for the first time that I participated in a meeting of so many Poles and Jews, where nobody talked about divisions, about wrongs, about anti-Semitism, nobody accused anybody of hatred, nobody recalled painful memories of the time of war.

The time that we spent together was joyful with the Holiday atmosphere, at one common table, which boasted Polish and Jewish dishes. We sang Christmas carols and had the opportunity to listen to stories relating to Christian traditions, and those of Hanukkah. There was time for conversation and for listening to poetry, recited by Anna Klimalanka, and time for a beautiful performance by Magdalena Duniewicz - a soloist of the Holy Trinity Church choir.

Listening to her singing, I returned in my memories to the Holidays in my own family home. Decoration of the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, waiting for the first star to appear in the night sky, the festive table, always covered non-meat dishes, the additional place left for a chance guest. Add to that the exceptional festive atmosphere and the walk through snow to the Midnight Mass. All that appeared to me as though it were yesterday. It is not any compelling tradition but an inner need that makes me want to celebrate this exceptional Holiday in a ceremonial manner. The Christmas Eve dinner has its atmosphere, its magic and tastes best in the company of your closest family. Christmas Eve dinners in greater numbers, even those spent in the company of friends, lack this charm and this unusual secret. To me Christmas is important.

Krzysztof Piesiewicz – the scriptwriter for films directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, asked by a journalist of the “Twoj Styl” (Your Style) magazine, what Christmas meant to him, recalled some memories: - It was along time ago. Winter and frost. The little Fiat, my first car, packed to capacity. On the back seat, my children, and presents for those closest to us, packed tight into all possible space. It was Christmas Eve. People hurrying to make it before the first star appeared. Hurrying to their warm homes, to their most loved ones. As each year, I drive along the Krakowskie Przedmiescie Boulevard to see my parents. And right next to Staszic Square, I see a little boy running across the street right in front of me. Jumping over snow mounds and frozen puddles in only a pajama and slippers, he dashes out of the front door of a hospital and runs in the direction of a Christmas tree, decorated with colored lights, standing on the square on the opposite side. A nurse chases him and catches him by the collar. Where was this little boy headed that night? That one and only night of the year and so exceptional. What was he looking for, what did he long for? Maybe he wanted to find a home, a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, maybe he wanted to smell the aromas of the Christmas Eve dinner table?

I think that he longed for all that which on that night was touched by the hope of love. The spontaneous act of a child who wanted to be with others that night, others who were to love him. He needed love above everything else. Soaring above the problems of adults, above their conflicts and divisions, above rows both stupid and difficult to understand, above thought-up duties. This demand for love exists since the beginning of time, and comes back especially on a day like this. Clever people, inspired by God, appointed this day as one in which we should try to be closer to one another. Once a year we demand of others and of ourselves more warmth than at all other times. To Christians, every year God is born, as in the words of the traditional Polish patriotic carol. For those who are not Christians, this is also a time when even they accept the idea of closeness and love.

I cannot imagine human existence without Holidays and I wait for them each year. This year, besides friends, let us invite to our Christmas Eve dinner table cordiality, tolerance, honesty, joy, good wishes and love. As much love as possible, because where love is present, hope is always born.

Bozena Szara, free lance journalist , Montreal

Translated by Witold Liliental – member of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation in Toronto