Atle Hetland One year ends and another year begins. The account books are being closed and we wind up the end of the year activities and we open the beginning of the year activities. Then, all of a sudden, the Christmas season is here. Even in Pakistan? Not quite the same way as Eid-ul-Azha, which we celebrated recently, and especially, Eid-ul-Fitr, the beautiful feast at the end of the Ramazan, the month of fasting, reflection and festivities, a time when every person gets closer to God and to fellow human beings. In that sense, the Advent month before Christmas, and the Christmas itself, is very similar to Ramazan and Eid. In Europe, including in my home country of Norway, almost every person goes to the Church at least once a year, and the favourite time for that is Christmas. When I grew up in Norway it was a homogenous, Christian country, with just a few hundred thousand believers belonging to other denominations outside the Evangelical-Lutheran State Church. Only some tens of thousands belonged to other religions. Today, Norway has become multi-cultural and multi-religious, with Pakistanis as the largest group of immigrants from outside Europe. Yet, Christianity is still the dominant religion, not entirely different from the way that Islam is dominant in Pakistan. But the some 35,000 new Norwegians of Pakistani origin, the majority from Gujrat, by the way, they too observe Christmas, too, as a cultural feast. Obviously, if you live in Norway or any of the other Nordic or European countries, you must enjoy the Christmas Season The Christmas shopping is as extensive as the Eid shopping, benefiting the shopkeepers and all of us, and being a special pleasure to the children, who are the main recipients of gifts, new clothes, and so on. Well, sometimes we complain about commercialisation of the feasts to such an extent that the religious messages become second. But they are still there, and the social messages are always present, our concern about the less fortunate and our prayers for peace on earth, for peaceful coexistence amidst poverty, inequality, and unfairness. In Norway and the rest of Europe, people are 'culturally Christian, but religion is not always present in everyday life. Actually, foreigners and newcomers think we are not religious, but I do not agree with that. Religion is there in a more discrete and subtle way, and people have their own interpretations. People want to think for themselves, as people do everywhere, and in the West they like to tell others what they think. Muslims and others, too, do that. Religion is present in society in Norway and Europe, not least during the Christmas season. We dont even have to look hard to see that. Everybody gives at least a few thoughts to the Christmas message - and many thoughts to all the practical aspects connected to the season, notably the buying of gifts for every relative and close friend, preparation of family gatherings, with special cakes and other food dishes. There are Christmas parties, some for adults only but most of them to include children as well. There are outdoor games, walks in the snow, skating on the ice, feeding of the birds in the garden and in the parks, and so on. Of course, there may not always be snow like in the Christmas cards. Relatives and friends must make visits to the hospitals and old peoples homes and see those who cannot join the larger community, and some may simply not have close relatives. Recently, I spoke to Amjad, a Pakistani-Norwegian, who in his boyhood and teenage years was a messenger boy, running around the neighbourhood on bicycle delivering goods to his fathers customers. He told me that he thought there were many old, lonely people in Norway. When he brought the general supplies from the shop, he said that he suspected he was often the only visitor the old man or woman seemed to have that week, even during Christmas. Amjad said that in Pakistan, in his parents home village in Gujrat, that kind of loneliness would be unthinkable. And yet Norwegians are also good people, he added. They have 'everything, but at the same time, they somehow dont seem to have time. I hope that people everywhere, can treat each other the way I was treated the first Ramazan and Eid I spent in Pakistan, some 10 years ago, when Christmas and Eid-ul-Fitr coincided. Before, Christmas, during Ramazan, I felt that every evening when breaking the fast with Iftar gatherings was like a small Christmas Eve. I was very impressed and it made me very happy. We all came closer to God and each other. The things we do, as human beings in connection with the major religious feasts, are quite similar - in Christianity, Islam, and the many other religions. There are cultural differences, specific traditions, fashions and trends, but the ideas behind what we do are perhaps more similar than we like to admit. Christmas carries two main messages. First, a message of hope, so that human beings with the help of Jesus, born to Virgin Mary on Christmas Eve some 2,000 years ago, can show us the way to live with God. Second, Christmas carries a message about how we should live with our fellow human beings, share and care, look after one another - and do onto others what we want others to do onto us. There is a religious message and a secular message having fundamental concepts relevant to all human beings belonging to any religion or none. Christmas and the New Year is a time of stocktaking. What did we do well in the past year and what can we do better in the coming year? None of us should be complacent and self-righteous. We can all do better, to the best of our ability, considering the resources and possibilities we have. To do good is a daily sermon, it is a symbol and manifestation of good living in our hearts and communities. To help relieve some of our fellow human beings struggle and suffering is what we should do, not least this year after the devastating floods in the country. In the words of St France of Assisi: It is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. Dear Reader, Thank you for allowing me to celebrate your Eid, so many times. I now welcome you to celebrate my Eid. But even if you cant, I wish you, Christmas Mubarak, and may the spirit and the teachings of Jesus be with us all, regardless of religion. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist currently based in Islamabad. Email: