I don’t know what this is supposed to be, but it is a marijuana leaf. Christmas decoration at Liberty Plaza.
Disclaimer: This post is in no way commentary on Soma Thero who, being dead, had nothing to do with the events after his death.
I’ve celebrated Christmas my whole life. Not that my family is Christian, but growing up in Ohio you couldn’t avoid it and it was never, to me, a very religious holiday. It was a very secular holiday in almost all aspects, more snow, candy canes, and nonsensical songs than gospel. Christmas is the largest economic stimulus for many nations and I noticed that more than Jesus birthday thing. In Sri Lanka, however, Christmas has almost disappeared (besides the godawful din on the radio). All this is due largely to one monks death, and the lesser monks who tried to capitalize on it. Or socialize. Or tyrannize. Whatever.
If you take public transit in Colombo or Sri Lanka you will see the face of 1) Lakshmi, 2) Naked Baby (not Jesus) or 3) Soma Thero. And not in that order. Judging from an informal survey of the 138, 177 and 100 bus lines, Soma Thero is insanely popular. He was probably the first television monk, an effective communicator and much beloved. He was also controversial, saying that Sinhala Buddhists need to outbreed Muslims (and getting kicked off the air), but as monks go he was not so bad. Again, this post is not a judgment on him, who I don’t know that much about. Anyways, he was in Russia to accept an honorary degree from Christian Evangelicals (who he oddly campaigned against). He had long suffered from Diabetes and died in St Petersburg of a heart attack at age 55. Some speculated that it was murder. That was investigated and looks unlikely, but you can never tell with Russians. That was December 12th.
That was sad. I can’t say I am/was a supporter, but it’s sad when anyone passes, especially someone who touched so many lives. However, what happened regarding his funeral was very strange. Buddhists don’t bury their dead immediately like Muslims, but they also don’t wait inordinate amounts of time. Soma Thero’s funeral, however, was scheduled for December 24th. Christmas Eve.
Now, the UNP was in power at the time and they were making a big push for Christmas as a commercial, economic holiday. However, Soma’s death shook that, and the delayed funeral rattled the celebrations to the core. His death was mourned like a film star, with orange all over the streets, and Christmas decorations were torn down. There was also an appeal to make the 24th a national day of morning (SARID). Note that the date was not that of his death (12th), but a tactical holiday two weeks later.
Soma Thero had preached against Christian conversions, but after his death extremists went the whole hog and tried to subdue Christmas altogether. And that year, largely succeeded. All the talk was off whether Christians killed Soma Thero, and the color was orange. There was also a backlash with monks effectively abandoning meditation and detachment to enter parliament (JHU) and the constant and largely symbolic debate over forced conversions in a land of child conscription, war, and immediate poverty.
And that, loosely, was how the monks stole Christmas. It’s never been the same, and it likely won’t be, unless someone’s willing to get their political neck lopped off. This is not to say that we should celebrate Christmas for any moral reason, but the fact is that the country did celebrate before. We follow the ‘Christian’ calendar and Chrismas is largely a time-keeping and economic function. We can cut it off, but I don’t see how the culture really gains anything from that. Besides pride. Last I checked that was a no-no in all the religions of this land.