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Christmas with a ball

BY: Bernard Otabil

With a week to Christmas, I pulled out the article I wrote for this column for the December 23, 2021 edition for inspiration. Oh yes, mentors need mentors too! Since Christmas day was a Saturday (25th December, 2021), the publication date was 23rd December.

And I titled that edition “Christmas reflections”. And this is how I set it off: “I mark it as joy to be celebrating Christmas 2021, as the year has been one filled with love, hope and peace. Christmas, as always, is the wonderful opportunity for friends and family to gather and share their blessings, and of course, sometimes some tribulations that had to be surmounted in the course of time. For me, over the years, the Christmas period has become the time for some deep reflections- taking stock of what worked, what didn’t, what needs to change, and of course, a gaze into the future too”. Inspiring, isn’t it? I got inspired too.

In fact, last year’s Christmas period was characterised by lots of “uncertainties” around the celebration. Shops were not closed, and we were not “locked-in” but with the threatening OMICRON variant of the COVID-19 virus, there were flashing lights, and warning signs calling out the need for caution. On Tuesday, December 21, 2021 for example, media reports quoted the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as saying: “An event cancelled is better than a life cancelled,” ostensibly warning that holiday festivities could lead to “increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths”. In WHO’s assessment of the fast spreading OMICRON variant then, there should be no “ball” at Christmas as it could lead to more infections. 

This year, the festive Christmas period looks quite different too. We don’t have threatening COVID virus cases to deal with, even though we are not completely out of the woods yet, as far as the pandemic is concerned.  In fact, we are having Christmas with a ball! We have had the Christmas bulbs or bubbles that we use to decorate Christmas trees replaced with Al Hilm ball, the first FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals and final ball made using only water-based inks and glues. On our screens, big or small, we see floating balls kicked around by strong men determined to outdo and outfox each other- tactically- to gain goal advantage. The traditional Christmas balls, which represent apples hanging on the branches of sacred trees, has given way to a “modern” ball that causes men and boys-alike- to dance with their feet on the field of play to the admiration of thousands in the stands and millions watching on screens.

I have enjoyed every bit of it, to be honest. And, l am sure you are aware that here l am referring to the World Cup taking place in Qatar. This is the first time, according to available records, that the world football fiesta is held in December, causing a break in domestic leagues. It has always been held post-league seasons.

As l stated earlier, I have enjoyed the way football has ushered in this year’s Christmas season but of equal interest to me is the way people, and here thousands, have been able to connect with one another, interacting in various social places to enjoy the tournament. December in the past two years did not offer this kind of luxury. We couldn’t have a ball, whether a drink in the park or watching football. This symbolises a gradual return of life to normal after the pandemic, and possibly, the need for us to revisit the reason for the season once again.

If you reflect on what the world has been through in the past three years, and the point where we are today, you will have every reason to be thankful. Of course, the fast easing of restrictions and other containment measures put in place to contain the pandemic has come with unintended consequences such as supply chain disruptions, demand and supply disequilibrium, which have all affected the global macroeconomic conditions in a great deal. Not forgetting the war in Europe, and the effect of other geopolitical tensions on the global economy as well. Dwelling on these negative developments alone would make you lose sight of the great resilience and fortitude of the human race.

We are having a ball this Christmas because some scientists, backed by researchers, decided to work tirelessly to develop vaccines and other protective gear against the virus. This has enabled all of us to change gear this Christmas period, from a low tempo to a high one, shifting from a festive season that promoted contactless activities, to one that is promoting contact sports on our screens. It is indeed a Christmas with a ball. There is indeed hope.

And as we enjoy this festive cheer, we mustn’t lose sight of the true message of Christmas. Let us continue with the message of Salvation, of Love, of Hope and Peace. This message has been spoken through the decades and generations, and attested to in many ways. That is the spirit of Christmas, which should be our subject of reflection during this festive period.

And as I admonished in the December 23, 2021 edition of this column, you must “understand also that Christmas, and for that matter festive periods, should not provide you with the cover to go into over-drive with your spending”.

“The festive period is not the period to spend, be merry and to think about the problems afterwards. No. Rather, it should be the period of reflection, to think through your life carefully to see whether indeed you deserve to give yourself a gift or not, following the path you have travelled from the beginning of the year”.

Remember that when you feel squeezed to find the extra cash to buy presents for the children it is not always the case that you “have no choice” but sometimes it is because you see all other alternatives as “unacceptable”.

In effect, think before you borrow.  As l have often repeated in this column, there is nothing like free lunch, and since money you borrow will have to be paid back, think carefully about the long-term consequences before you borrow. Ability to pay back the interest and principal without any serious negative impact on your finances should be the number one consideration.

Also, remember that some lenders, and even retail shops have adopted aggressive marketing strategies to cash in, using unsuspecting borrowers as pawn, by borrowing from “primary lenders” and “repackaging” the funds for others who also need cash. The point is that these placebo-speaking, all-knowing lenders use all the tricks in the book to hoodwink the desperate borrower into believing that they have all it takes for them to get out of their financial mess. Or to satisfy a short- term need.

Yeah, think deep because it may smell good and yet taste bad! The ball is now in your court—play it well!

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