A Christmas Story

Did you give yourself anything this Christmas? I gave myself a reverse telling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

 I’m happy to say that I mostly gave time and money to others which is satisfying, but I also gave support to local project. I’m not much of a “joiner” but it turns out that I’m not a half bad organizer, especially when supported by engaged, passionate people who want the same goal. This year, it was a small “secret Santa” type fundraiser for some under-served families in my community. Part of the skill I demonstrated was forming a committee of smart, active people and letting them contribute their own strengths to the endeavor. Honestly I may be most proud of that, because everything that followed was largely a result of the cooperative effort.

So, we began with benevolence and hope; the ghost of future Christmas a cheery, red-cheeked optimist who happily typed away on social media.

Then began the process of organizing the goods for delivery. This was a somewhat less cheery prospect, because it involved moving couches up and down staircases and storing boxes and driving all over town. Nevertheless, the ghost of Christmas present smiled through backaches and happily played its part.

The ghost of Christmas past hit me like a ton of bricks after I made the first round of deliveries. Its icy hand clasped mine and took me back to times where I, too, felt the unimaginable bounty of an unexpected $50 at Christmastime, and at the same time the utter despair that it won’t mean a damn in the long run. Times when December’s rent check bounced and there was no tree, let alone presents to put under it. Further back even than that, when I accidentally became the “real meaning of Christmas” lesson to a childhood friend who realized that the prize of my Christmas morning was going to be a $20 vanity item while she was complaining about not getting the exact leather jacket she wanted. Poverty is the breeding ground of shame, especially for children and especially in this country. The ghost of Christmas past was making me sick with it.

I’m sure I’ve become an interminable bore to most of my casual friends on Facebook with my incessant social and economic reform posts. I mean, I post about my dogs and my lunch, too, but I’m also consistently pushing a narrative of justice for those who’ve been most victimized by capitalism. Christmas is a spotlight on those issues, and my well-intentioned involvement was a thousand watt boost.

Some people might take from this experience the idea that coming together as a community is the best part of the holiday, or doing for others is really a gift to oneself. And you’re welcome to internalize that message if it makes you feel good. But if it stops there, you might be missing the point. Because you may take your “feel good” message to bed at night and sleep soundly, but all of the families that I had a hand in helping are going to go right back to square one after the holiday. The generosity and good will that is in such abundance during Christmas will have disappeared into credit card bills, buyer’s remorse and tax season. I may be on a low economic rung, but others are being crushed under the foot of the ladder.

Scrooge, it was said, “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” at the end of his tale. I don’t know what will be said at the end of mine, but this year the addendum will be a lot more posts about systemic equality and our responsibilities to each other.