IT’S that time of year when fatigue sets in and digestive systems start to recoil even from the wondrous symmetry of a chocolate orange. Understandably, as we overeat the media resorts to its familiar tropes: The Review of the Year and Our Hopes and Fears of the Year to Come.

Everyone deserves a Christmas break, but when you survey the pages of the Scottish press there is surely a case to be made for indentured labour, a law that forces journalists to work through the holiday season, if only to spare us the pain of another sycophantic reflection on the honours system.

Only one curiosity has arisen this year that has any lasting merit and that is the coincidence of death. It was a sad year for towering intellects as we said a fond farewell to Sir Stephen Hawking and Barry Chuckle.

Although the media in the UK is rigorously pre-planned, in Asia, one story always bucks the trend of commemorative media – the tsunami of 2004, which struck on Boxing Day and killed 240,000 people.

In the Asian media, the aftermath of Boxing Day 2004 has yet to subside and journalists still doggedly chase down stories of local corruption, governmental failure and enduring human mysteries. The stories that flow from tsunamis are limitless in their drama and complexity, which makes our own superficial understanding of what is at stake all the more pitiful.

Last month another tsunami hit South Lampung in Indonesia, killing a further 429 people and leaving coastal villages in Java and Sumatra destroyed or petrified. It is not clear what activated the latest disaster but the gigantic waves may have been caused by an underwater landslide following the eruptions from the Anak Krakatoa volcano.

Geologists will spend years to come trying make sense of what has happened, adding more data to an already baffling set of competing theories that seek to explain the underwater tectonic shifts around the Ninety East Ridge east of Sumatra.

Journalists are naturally attracted to tsunamis in part because they cruelly underline the gulf between rich and poor. In Sri Lanka, where 35,000 people died on Boxing Day 2004, impoverished fishing villages sat next to luxury tourist hotels, and makeshift shacks huddled alongside fabulous villas.

While stories of rich and poor were told, often with dignity and sorrow, the European media tended to focus its reporting on the island’s south-east coast where tourists flock to Sri Lanka’s golden sands, Dutch surfers chase breaks, German health hounds visit Ayurvedic doctors and posh British tourists sip tea in old colonial hotels imagining an era long gone and never to return.

Losing a loved one on holiday is among the most tragic experiences imaginable and many tourists experienced that sufferance – but they were smaller in number than the poorer villagers whose lives were anonymously swept away.

Discouraged by the consequences of a brutal civil war, the media in Europe all but ignored the north and east of the country, and this deep divide meant that the greatest losses and the poorest people never had their moment in the media.

Each year Sri Lanka’s commemorative media abandons the fatuous excesses of “That Was the Year That Was” and many journalists return to the tsunami not to reflect on the past, but to hold power to account.

Sri Lankans were promised an early warning system that would ensure the tragedy was never repeated. But how has that fared? Delegates were dispatched to Kobe in Japan to a symposium known as the Hyogo Framework for Action, the first global agreement on tsunami disaster risk reduction. A battery of seismographs and sea-level warning systems were installed and then, as often happens, time passed and people got lazy.

Some warning systems have fallen into disrepair, others scavenged for sellable metal and still more left to amateurs to maintain. The scandal of the failed tsunami risk reduction programmes is an editorial priority, which in turn means that many very strong stories are broken in the week of Christmas as we lie comatose at home believing that John Redwood’s knighthood was only an alcohol-induced hallucination.

TSUNAMI media has thrown up some compelling human interest stories too. The undisputed star of the event itself was Baby 81, the infant who was separated from his parents in the chaos after the waves struck.

He was the 81st baby to be registered with local authorities triggering desperately bereaved families to queue up to try to claim the child. One couple persisted and it was only after DNA testing and a bizarre media frenzy in America that the couple were eventually united with their child on television talk shows.

The couple were unfairly pilloried for the way the media treated them and were pursued by suspicion that they had earned a fortune for their story. To escape their notoriety as the tsunami family, the parents relocated to a town on the opposite side of the island. Now a 16-year-old, Baby 81 is at high school planning to become a doctor.

The mystery of “The Boy Called Seenu” has a less happy ending. Seenu, an 11-year-old Tamil boy from the Eastern Province, was separated from his parents in the most mundane of ways. He was sent to a local shop to buy a packet of custard creams when the tsunami struck. Seenu ran with the crowd in one direction and his mother and sister ran the opposite way.

According to official reports on the day, although many thousands died in the area, some whose bodies were never identified, Seenu was not among them. He had tripped and fallen in the rush and had sustained minor head wounds. Taken to a local hospital in the nearby town of Ampara, it is claimed he sat patiently among the dead and the dying. The hospital register shows that he was admitted to Ward 27 and there is little doubt he was safe and well – a friend visited him and brought him fresh water. But when his parents arrived to take him home the boy had gone, and subsequent hospital records have been doctored to show the name of an entirely different boy.

On the days after the tsunami, the hospital at Ampara was so overcrowded that people were transferred to other hospitals nearby. Did Seenu go in a crowded ambulance elsewhere? If so, where is he now?

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that bureaucratic error registered him at the hospital but that he never made it there, and died when the first brutal wave struck and lies in an unnamed grave. Others have speculated that he was the victim of an opportunistic child abduction, sold on to a grieving family by an unscrupulous chancer or in some versions by a corrupt hospital administrator.

Seenu would now be 25 years old and whatever happened to him, he has never tried to contact his parents since.

Only one mystery trumps Seenu and that is the baffling fact that on the day that thousands died very few animals lost their lives. Cats, dogs and even elephants drew on some inner sixth sense and made their way instinctively to the safety of higher ground. The few that perished had been tethered or caged by humans, but those that roamed free survived.

When we solve that particular mystery the case for animal welfare will enter a new and even more decisive era.