Christians have just celebrated Christmas. And I just reflect today on some intimate connections between this Holiday and Seafarers. Christmas is an important day for all Christians but with some differences between Eastern and Western creeds. For the West, Santa Claus (: Saint Nicholas) is highly symbolic and associated with gifts and usually the intensive commercial activity around this Holy Day. As a University student in the US I heard the parody of the Xmas song ‘jingle bells’ as ‘cash-register bells…all the way’. Selling replaces caring. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Santa Claus’ role is played by Saint Basil and is celebrated on New Year’s Day. Otherwise, the festive visual representations of the respective saints are more or less the same. Of special interest to us, Ayios Nikolaos, or Saint Nicholas, in the Greek tradition is also considered the protector of Seafarers. Many other coincidences with our current situation in Saint Nicholas’ life can be seen in the article “Who is Saint Nicholas?”, https://www.stnicholascenter.org/who-is-st-nicholas. His parents who were rich and died during an epidemic (times like now!) raised him to care: “Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.” When young, Nikolaos went as a pilgrim to the Holy Land. “Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.”
Back to the present! Many groups and categories of working people have suffered huge financial losses during this pandemic year. The same is true of small businesses. One cannot avoid thinking of the contrast with the massive gains enjoyed by many billionaires whose profits skyrocketed during the same time. One of the categories of 3rd world workers badly affected by the situation is in the production of luxury goods for the West (and Xmas presents!) in nine countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia and so forth. Their meager salaries were cut or withheld, so many had to borrow money to even buy their daily food. A Bangladeshi worker reportedly said she had thought of killing her children to save them from hunger.
Our own group, the Seafarers, have been bearing the brunt of much of the disruption of movement globally, whether in goods or in people. It is alarming to read about yet another ship stranded somewhere around the world, or, the 100s of thousands of seafarers who are stuck at a port, unable to return home upon the completion of their contracts. Many have had to serve month after month, with no rest, away from their loved ones, missing important events of their families over and above the pain of being unable to see them and be with them. As a consequence, Mariners at the end of their contract cannot get off the ship at the next port and travel home by whatever means. They remain on board, work without breaks and rest, which seriously affects their performance and increases danger. Dedicated organizations mention crew “fatigue and depression” and International media report cases where crew members cannot even disembark for urgent personal medical matters. Family emergencies cannot be met, as in the dramatic case of a Greek seafarer who is unable to travel home and be present in his pregnant wife’s delivery of their baby. Those in power need to learn from Saint Nicholas!