All I want for Christmas is social and economic justice

This is not a joyous day for too many of us.
Some of us are without loved ones, perhaps for the first time.
Some of us are without a job and therefore without the means to participate in the way convention tells us we must — there is joy in giving, so we must consume, consume, consume, spend, spend, spend.
I spent a part of yesterday — Christmas Eve — talking to people who don’t even have a home, nevermind a tree all lit up in splendor.
We live in a time of historic economic and social inequality. Those of us who have something are encouraged to belittle and discriminate against people who have less — even against people who have nothing at all.
I’m working on an article about how cash bail keeps people incarcerated because we in this culture assume poverty equals guilt, if not of the crime for which we throw you in jail, then of being “lazy,” of wanting a “handout.”
One woman said to me, “I don’t have any way of knowing the date or even the time. I live under a bridge.”
But she spent 23 days in jail for the crime of missing a court date for sleeping in public.
“I cried a lot,” she told me. “But what can I do?”
Another young man has been homeless ever since he was released from foster care seven years ago with no skills and no help.
“I had marijuana paraphernalia,” he told me.
No pot, just the paraphernalia.
And he landed in jail for weeks, without a conviction.
We’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in this country, but poor people are thrown in jail and left there because they can’t come up with a few hundred dollars to pay the bondsman.
That $100 you have to come up with for the $1,000 bond routinely set for people who trespass or fall asleep on a park bench in the sun, that $100 is food for a month. That $100 is a quarter of a disability check for someone with a mental illness who could be stabilized and more than happy to contribute to society if they just had a place to call home.
Instead, we follow them until they fall asleep, exhausted, on a park bench and arrest them for sleeping in public. That arrest then bans them from the city’s parks, and if they so much as sit on a park bench to rest, they can be arrested again for trespass.
Rev. Amy Cantrell, who operates BeLoved House in Asheville, NC, says she has seen police follow people they know are homeless and arrest them as soon as they sit down.
Amy works with people who society considers disposable and every year, a dozen or more die.
The year my son died from medical neglect, one of them was a man named Tommy McMahon. It was February and it was cold. We had just learned that morning that Mike’s cancer was back and we were in Cary with him. He was napping and my husband and I were in a motel near his house when I got a call from a colleague who asked for some sources for a news story about a homeless man who had died the night before.
Tommy had gone to the emergency room with difficulty breathing and was diagnosed with pneumonia. They gave him some antibiotics and released him to the streets. It was in the 20s that night and he was sick, so he balked at going back out. Someone called the police and Tommy was brought to jail, where he died that night, alone in his cell.
I think of Tommy every year at this time — when the days are shortest and the nights are longest and coldest, when I know people are out in the cold with nowhere to go to get warm.
I think of Tommy when I see a homeless person being harassed and told to leave a place of business because they don’t have enough money to be considered worthy of society’s respect.
I think of Tommy when I see a tent in the woods along the side of the road and I know the police might show up and slash it because it’s illegal to camp just about anywhere they might pitch a tent against the cold and rain.
I think of Tommy when I see someone huddled in a doorway and I know they’ll be told to move along so the sight of them doesn’t disturb customers.
I think of Tommy when I remember that, although my son died of medical neglect, at least he had a warm bed and people who loved him.
I think of Tommy when I remember that the person I follow was born in a stable because no one would give his parents a warm place to be on that night.
I like to think Tommy is in a warm and loving place now, that his soul is nurtured and fed, even though his body was not.
On Christmas, I think of the people who have nothing because it seems nobody else wants to.
Today, I’ll celebrate by serving lunch to people who have little to nothing. I’ll hug them and I’ll tell them I care — because I do.
My sister and my son aren’t with us anymore. Neither is Tommy McMahon. But there are more than enough people with whom to celebrate the birth of a poor child who would change the world, and I don’t need to buy — or get — a new Buick to do it.
All I need is the spirit of the one whose birth we celebrate, the one who told us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick and welcome the stranger.
May your day be as blessed as mine.

So, we’re at “war” again

Really? You're outraged over a coffee cup design? Perhaps you need to rethink the meaning of "Christmas."

Really? You’re outraged over a coffee cup design? Perhaps you need to rethink the meaning of “Christmas.”

Once again, “Christians” are claiming they’re being attacked, this time because Starbucks has introduced plain red cups for the holiday season.

Let me say a few words to “Christians” who are disturbed by this.

First of all, Starbucks is a business that serves people of all faiths,” not just yours.

Second, if you are so self-centered that you think your particular brand of Christianity is the only faith that ought to be recognized, you are about as far away from the teachings of your “Savior” as it gets.

Jesus taught humility. He taught love and acceptance. And he didn’t celebrate Christmas. He did celebrate his birthday, I imagine (I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t), but it was at the time of harvest — most likely in September, not December.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth was moved to December to recruit Pagans into the new religion, since this is when most major religions celebrate the winter solstice, or the return of the light. The Christmas tree is another Pagan tradition. You don’t think Jesus actually bought an evergreen tree and decorated it do you?

As for the Christmas avarice, that’s a relatively new invention. Originally, there was a feast to celebrate the birth of the Christ. Then people started giving foods — nuts and fruits, mostly. Then came small gifts — children left their shoes or stockings out to be filled.

Then came the greed. By the mid-20th century, people were going into debt to buy crap recipients didn’t need and often couldn’t even use.

Now comes the hubris of demanding everyone recognize your holiday, whether they observe it or not. Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists, atheists — it doesn’t matter. Not only are they expected to wish us a merry “Christmas,” we are allowed to wish them the same, no matter what they observe.

And “Christians” seem to see nothing wrong in this. They have become so self-absorbed that no one else matters — the exact opposite of what Christ (whom they claim to worship) taught.

So, yes, I will wage war against “Christmas,” as long as it is a celebration of greed and consumerism.

I will, however, celebrate Christmas. I will spend money only on materials for handmade gifts. Sorry, kids, no Target gift cards this year. Perhaps I will give you art and craft supplies and offer to teach you to knit or crochet. Perhaps, if you have asked me for recipes, I will print our a bunch of mine and put them in a binder so you can start your own cookbook.

When my younger son was alive, he celebrated Christmas by making a huge dinner and inviting people who had nowhere else to go. And he was never, ever offended by someone who wished him happy holidays, because like me, he believed that phrase included every holiday between Halloween and Martin Luther King Day.

This “war on Christmas” was designed to distract people from real issues like disastrous social, economic and ecological policies. You can’t fight for the climate, for education, for health care, labor rights, voting rights, etc., if you’re obsessed with fighting a supposed war on a holiday.

You claim to worship Christ, then perhaps you should look to the red print in the New Testament for guidance on how to treat people and for the real reasons to be outraged, because you should be really furious about the things going on around you.

I am outraged by the war on the poor, and even more on the impoverishment of millions of people whose jobs were shipped overseas and then replaced by low-paying jobs that don’t provide enough to make ends meet, even though people are working harder.

I hate everything “Christmas” has come to stand for in our culture. I hate the must-have attitude. I detest the car commercials that suggest someone deserves a $25,000 gift for Christmas. I hate the way children start making lists in September because they’re taught greed is good.

I hereby declare a war on “Christmas,” so that I can celebrate Christmas.

I will not set foot in a mall between now and New Year’s. I will go to the yarn store and the art supply store. I will buy handmade from local people or make it myself.

I will not go further into debt.

I will drop off some handmade scarves and hats at Beloved House here in Asheville to help keep people warm instead of vilifying poor people and blaming them for their circumstances. After all, I don’t recall Jesus asking people if they made bad choices as teenagers before he helped them.

I will send cards to Christians wishing them a merry Christmas, but for those I know to celebrate other holidays, I will send cards wishing them happy holidays. I will not take offence at cards that wish me happy holidays.

I will attempt to be kind and generous in the spirit of the one whom I celebrate.

So, to all my Christian friends, I wish you a merry Christmas; to those of other faiths, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

 

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