Its an interesting study.

Ed
Ed Smith
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To understand the Christmas traditions in this far-off place we need to know a little about the country and the people.
Older Slamanovia is by all measures a very poor country. The average income is probably not more than $6,000-$8,000 a year. Many survive on a great deal less, depending on hunting and fishing to provide much of their food for the winter, as well as most of their income.
Most families have vegetable plots where they grow staples such as potatoes, cabbage and turnip. Fish, wild game and migratory birds, and even some vegetables are preserved through salting for consumption during the long winter months.
The very poor, such as widows and many seniors, are cared for by their families. It's not unusual for grandparents and even great-grandparents to live with their children and grandchildren until their deaths. Seniors are held in great respect by the rest of the family, which usually depends on them to pass on traditional life skills to the younger.
It's difficult for us to comprehend in this day and age and in this part of the world, but there is no television in Older Slamanovia. Communication with the outside world is mostly through battery radio, there being no electricity in most of the smaller communities which make up 90 per cent of the population.
Newspapers, when they come at all, are several days and even weeks old. People move back and forth between those small villages by boat in summer and horse and slide during winter. Hospital services may be hours away over rough seas or days by horse. People are used to putting up strangers overnight, usually refusing to take any money from anyone except commercial travelers.
Young men usually follow their fathers into the fishery. Young women are expected to marry young and raise a family. Fewer than half the children who begin secondary schools finish or "matriculate," and fewer than half of those go on to any kind of post-secondary education. Of those who do, most become teachers or clergy and do not return.
Formal education is generally limited to one room, all-grade schools.
Religion is an important part of the culture with most people attending worship services in largely one denominational communities. The clergyman (there are no clergywomen in the established churches) is often called upon to be the law officer, the welfare officer, the magistrate, the lawyer and the chair of the school board.
People make their own entertainment in this small country. Holidays of any kind are an excuse for a supper and dance. Chief among these is the Christmas season.
School is closed for at least two weeks. A Christmas concert in the school hall heralds the beginning of the holidays. Every student, including the older boys and girls, takes part in the concert which usually involves much slapstick comedy. The older people enjoy these performances greatly.
The concert ends with a visit from the old gentleman himself and the town drunk. Sometimes the two are one and the same, which adds to the general merriment. No one minds unless Fadder Navidad, as the Older Slamanovians call him, gets a little too touchy-feely with the married women.
Young girls are on their own. Sometimes Sandy Claus, as he is better known among the younger set, has to chase them all over the hall to give them their present from the tree.
Everyone gets a present from Sandy. Usually it's an exercise book and a pencil. Some of the luckier children get pencil boxes. One or two will get a small toy. The smaller students get a colouring book. It's a great start for Christmas.
Sandy Claus comes again on Christmas Eve. That's where the large gifts are given. Girls could get the doll of their choice from the mail-order catalog. A well-behaved young boy could be the recipient of a new coaster but this is rare because coasters are expensive in this country. One coaster will normally do a child, or even two generations of children, all their sliding lives.
Life in Older Slamanovia is very different from life here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Here children receive so many toys and gifts that they get overwhelmed and don't know what to do. Many of them wind up playing with the simpler stuff, like the boxes things came in.
Parents can't seem to fathom this. But it's easy to understand. Children like the simpler things so that their own imaginations can take over and they can do what they want themselves.
Adults, likewise, have too much in our Christmas season. We spend hundreds and even thousands on each other buying gifts none of us need, trying to say something that a few well-chosen words would probably say better. For some reason, we find it easier to say "I love you" with expensive gifts rather than in simple words.
Not the Older Slamanovians. They know that gifts are only symbols of our caring, not the whole package. The monetary value of the symbol is irrelevant, especially if, like them, we can't afford it.
We are lifetimes and light years removed from those wonderful people. We can no more relate to their values and lifestyles than if they didn't exist at all. And that's sad.
The day may be coming, and soon, when we'll have more in common with them than we like to think. Perhaps then we'll have no choice but to examine how we are living and to what purpose.
Christmas is a time for giving, no question about it. But I believe the real message of Christmas is to remind us of what real giving is. A giving that has nothing to do with dollars and cents but with the giving of ourselves, to and for each other.
May the peace and the blessing of the Christ Child be yours.

Ed Smith lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca.

Geographic location: Older Slamanovia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Springdale

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