By Patricia Wilson-Smith
If you’re like me, you likely ask yourself the same goofy question every year – “Is it me or have the Holidays come around earlier than usual this year?”
It’s not you, and it’s not me. The fact is, anxious retailers are surreptitiously planting seeds of holiday cheer into our psyches earlier and earlier with each year that passes. If our greedy merchant friends have their way, before long, we’ll all be decorating for the holidays the day after Memorial Day.
But finding new ways to separate us from our money is the capitalist way; free enterprise and all that. Just like zeroing out our credit card balances only to sucker punch them again, holding lavish holiday feasts, and buying gifts for people we barely speak to all year are all part of our annual national psychosis. If you’re like me, you too have fallen victim to this mindless trap year-after-year. You’re powerless. Resistance has become futile.
Not to say that the holidays are not a special time. Any opportunity to spread good will and eat until you’re catatonic can never be underrated. Still, for me anyway, this year is different. This year for perhaps the first time, I am feeling an overwhelming need to give to someone who doesn’t already have an extensive CD collection, or buy for someone who’s not distressed over their need for a wall-mount kit for the new 50 inch flat screen TV they just bought for themselves. This year, before I dust off the plastic and head out to the mall, I’ve decided to take a look around – and I mean a very long hard look around to see what else needs my attention.
I could start on the continent of Africa on the western Sudan in the Darfur region. Since 2003, the Sudanese government has been providing arms and assistance to militia groups who are committing genocidal acts in numbers that have been estimated between 50,000 to 450,000, though most experts believe the number of the murdered to be on the higher end of the range. Almost as bad, more than 2.5 million people are believed to have been displaced. Whatever the politics, whoever the aggressors, there are hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are in need of help – people who are suffering that couldn’t give a crap about when the Macy’s one-day sale starts.
Or I could head down to New Orleans. Or more accurately to the place that used to be the thriving multi-cultural land of music and fine cuisine. There I’d find the abandoned homes and shattered lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, some who struggled in poverty even before Katrina, and who now, having been virtually abandoned by relief efforts, and having lost everything in the disaster, are actually being told by their insurance companies that while flood damage is covered by their home owner’s policies, the breaking of the levees that ultimately caused the devastating flooding is not. Those people don’t give a hoot about when the new Sony Play Station 3 is going on sale.
Or maybe I could take a leisurely stroll through the streets of downtown. I could have a sit down with a few of the thousands of homeless people who live on my city’s streets. People from all ethnicities and walks of life, who are facing down the prospect of another cold winter without a roof over their heads. I could have a pointed conversation with the city leaders who in their flaccid attempts to breathe life back into some areas of the city, sweep the needy and the destitute under the proverbial rug to make the city look ‘better’. I could wait for one of these clowns to walk by me, stick my foot out, and watch them fall flat onto their over-stuffed faces. The people they step over everyday couldn’t care less about this city’s image.
The problem with us and the ease in which we give in to our banal holiday pleasures is that it leaves us scant little time to remember those people who have suffered all year in silence, who needed for us to see them all year when we would not, and who, during this most blessed season should expect nothing less than that we will open our eyes, our hearts and our coffers if only to help make a few of their days during the season of giving a little more bright. The problem is, the holiday decorations in October, the pre-Thanksgiving-day-Christmas sales, the office parties, the half-hearted gift-giving, takes us away from the activities, rituals, and just plain simple kindnesses that should serve to help us remember why we do it all in the first place. I would submit that there is much besides the normal Yule tide distractions that need our attention.
To make a difference this holiday season, consider making a donation to one of the many fine organizations created to aid victims of the genocide in Darfur and the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, organizations like “Help Darfur Now” at http://www.helpdarfurnow.org, or the joint initiative between former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to benefit the Katrina relief fund, whose website can be found by going to http://www.bushclintonkatrinafund.org. You can of course also help by calling your local Red Cross and donating to the cause of your choice.
This year, let’s do something different. Before we spend one thin dime on a video game, or deck a single hall with holly (what the hell is a ‘bough’ anyway?), let’s all find someone, anyone who needs a hand, a leg up, a small kindness, and give it to them. If just for one day we all chose charity over opulence, sharing over mindless consumption, and giving to those in need before giving to those who don’t, well, it would just make having Christmas trees show up in our neighborhood drugstores in October a little more palatable. That’s all I’m saying.