CHRISTMAS IN COLOMBO, SRI LANKA: AMERICA’S UNPRECEDENTED GLOBAL REACH

WHAT TRUMP, THE TRUMPETTES AND THE WOEFULLY MISINFORMED DON’T “GET” ABOUT AMERICA’S POWER

THE MOUNT LAVINIA HOTEL

Whenever I am in India, or this year in Sri Lanka, I am always amazed at how Christmas – yes “Christmas” as in the birth of Jesus Christ as Christians term it – is taken so seriously and so widely celebrated.  In India it’s become more or less a continuation of Divali, the five day festival of lights that occurs in October or November.  Here in Colombo this year, I’ve heard more Christmas carols this week than in the past five years back in D.C.  Really.  On the radio, on television, in restaurants, in shops, the hotel lobby – pretty much damned near everywhere.  Just last night we were treated to about 50 school girls in green uniforms singing up a storm outside in the Hotel Lavinia’s front courtyard.  The last time I spent Christmas in Kochi I followed a group of Christmas carolers as they made their way around town belting out “Silent Night,” “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” (in English, by the way) while carrying candles in their hands to bring light into the world I guess.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of roving carolers back home.  Sure, years ago I did such stuff and even had a solo of “Silent Night” in our Christmas rounds but that was back when such neighborhood happenings were commonplace.  They aren’t any more.  At least not in D.C.

The really cool part about Christmas here in Colombo this year, is the wedding celebrations taking place too.  Apparently, it is some uber-auspicious time period for weddings and it looks as if the Mount Lavinia Hotel is scarfing up four or five a day.  The wedding outfits are fantastic – the Hindu ones with the most elaborate, gold encrusted red saris I have ever seen and the Christian ones with what looks to be hand embroidered white gowns with ten foot long trails – even down to the young kids in outfitted in purple and green and red suits and frocks.  Photographers nearly outnumber the wedding participants. 

But what truly impresses me about Christmas here in South Asia is that it’s celebrated at all.   There are certainly insufficient numbers of Christians – compared to Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus – to account for the full page ads in the newspapers, the “Super Special Christmas Eve” dinners at fancy hotels, and the continuous streaming of both pop and traditional Christmas music from radio stations and Xmas decorations in pubic parks, on buildings, private homes - everywhere.  Sure, I’m staying in a hotel that has a solid Western clientele but in toto I suspect that the Russian, Chinese, Indian and local Lankan clientele probably out number us Westerners. 

As far as I know, no one has promoted world wide Christmas celebrations (there might be some underground campaigns to promote it, but who knows?) but back in the states every year there seems to be a fierce “war on Christmas” according to the right wingers and the ill informed.  Maybe they ought to get out for a while, out of the U.S., that is, if they really want to see just how popular Christmas has actually become in the rest of the world.  At least here in Sri Lanka and, I can attest, in India too.  Sure, it isn’t celebrated as a religious festival (where is it any more?) but as a joyous time of the year in a very non-sectarian, one-worldly fashion.   Everybody is happy, bringing joy to everyone; singing, caroling, lights and good times are the character of the time. 

And this, it seems to me, is what the whiny, “Oh poor, forgotten, little me!” Trump voters haven’t a clue about.  America’s power rests not with the number of intercontinental missiles, or aircraft carriers, or fighter jets and submarines our military possesses but with the spread of American culture and as surprising as it might be, this culture includes such holidays as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and, yes, Christmas!  All are celebrated in many nations around the world.  Does American advertising and the spread of capitalism across the planet have something to do with it?  You bet it does.  But for all of the negative impacts capitalism has on developing nations in particular, it is an undeniable fact that American Culture rules.   And rules pretty much everywhere.  This is where our power lies.  Not in military strength but in the strength of our traditions, and in particular, our non-secular ones (which now includes Christmas, for God’s sake, in case you hadn’t noticed) and their spread around the world.  Accessible and understandable to anyone and everyone, yet reflecting near universal beliefs (respect for elders – Mother’s and Father’s day), universal affection (Valentine’s Day) and God knows why but Christ’s birth as a festival of lights and universal happiness.  WTF?

This is the true source of America’s strength in the world.  And it is immensely powerful.  ISIS takes issue with American and Western culture – as did Al Qaeda – as being morally bankrupt and decadent and yet it would seem that your ordinary first, second and third worlder type disagrees if the world wide spread of American pop music, let's say, is any indication.  No other music is so widely broadcast around the world than American music.  American movies?  Second only to Bollywood in reach and viewership (although both are pretty lame for my money, but that’s just me!)  Fashion?  Can you say jeans?  Levi’s Jeans, to designer jeans to today’s skinny jeans and it goes on.   Food?  Please.  McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, Burger King and God alone know how many more have permeated to the farthest reaches of the planet.  Sure, it ain’t the healthiest food option but then popularity isn’t a function of health so much as taste – as in “sweet and tasty” as opposed to “good taste.” 

Pushed around the world by Madison Avenue and multi-national corporate dominance, American culture has thoroughly invested itself on the world scene. Both China and Russia – our Cold War enemies – have adopted capitalism, for God’s sake.  And America’s influence is on the wane?  Such crap.   Ask a Lankan if he knows how many aircraft carriers America’s Navy has and he will think you are nuts.    Ask him where the nearest Burger King is (it’s right up on the Galle Road not a kilometer from the Mount Lavinia Hotel) and he will respond immediately with fulsome directions to the nearest one.  And tell you where the Pizza Hut and KFC outlets are too.  This is the power of America.  This is how we have “invaded” the planet, how American products, values and traditions have embedded themselves into the very fabric of what we used to – and still do – call foreign cultures.  And you want to know the biggest reason why it’s American culture in ascendance all across the world? 

English.   English is has become the de-facto language of international tourist and business relations and has been the language of science since World War II.   Sure, you won’t find folks speaking English out in rural India but find yourself in any decent sized town or city and it won’t take you but a minute to find someone who has at least a smattering of English-to-go words to assist you.

But to the alt.right and woefully misinformed folks?  America is under siege around the world.  America’s dominance is at risk.  America no longer has the respect of other nations.  America is losing its place in the world order.  America is weak. 

Yeah, right.  “America the loser” as Christmas is celebrated in Buddhist Sri Lanka and Hindu India.  As “Last Christmas” (but not the super fine Wham - George Michael- version) plays ad nauseum on Colombo’s 90.1 FM radio station.  As Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, and Serbians negotiate with waiters and taxi wallahs and shop owners in English all across Asia.  As a group of Sri Lankan school girls sing Christmas Carols to the Hindu wedding parties leaving our hotel for their honeymoons.  Sure.  America is losing its power.  America’s power has been transformed.  The direct colonial period is long gone.  But the new World Wide Dominion of America is very much alive, well and firmly implanted in the world’s cultural fabric if one cares to look.  It behooves all of us, at least those of us who don’t think that Donald Trump has answers for anything that matters in the 21st Century, to remember that military might is not the only means to promote national dominance on the world scene. Lady Gaga, “Last Christmas,” skinny jeans and Burger King do it much more effectively in these days of Twitter and Facebook.

It may well be that the United States can no longer dictate to every other nation on earth to gain its way, but then again who knows?  American military power has never been greater yet so too have the perils America faces in an interconnected world armed to the teeth with American, Russian and Chinese made weapons.  But such power is fleeting.  It can’t last but for a short period of historical time until some other country or some other group of countries replaces it.  But that’s not where it’s at in 2016.  Where it’s at is Lady Gaga on YouTube streaming to every country on earth.  It’s hamburgers morphed into veggie burgers in Hindu India where cows are sacred and beef is not eaten.  It’s Christmas sale advertisements for washers and dryers in local newspapers in Colombo.  It’s the export not of jet fighters, but of songs and movies, and television shows, and fashion trends and language, and memes and sayings and, trust me, IT’S ALL AMERICAN! No other country in the world wields the power that America does (even if those Trump supporters don’t know it, ignorant assholes that they are.)  And this is what will prevail. This is the music that the world is going to swing to for the next - maybe - 100 years.  America!


Merry Christmas And Have A Great Day!


     

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