[Hpn] Christmas Essay

Anitra Freeman anitra@speakeasy.org
Tue, 26 Dec 2000 00:01:51 -0800 (PST)

A Christmas Without Wishes

"We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year"

"I want to wish you a Merry Christmas
I want to wish you a Merry Christmas
I want to wish you a Merry Christmas
From the bottom of my heart"

"Merry Christmas!"
"Happy Holidays!"

I've heard it, you've heard it, increasingly over the last weeks,
peaking last night and today. If you don't send Christmas greetings to
everyone in your family, all your friends, and everyone else you know,
you're a Scrooge or a Grinch.  I've been wishing Merry Christmas to
people myself for the last week -- although I usually stick to "Happy
Holidays!" until I get an indication of whether "Merry Christmas" "Happy
Hanukkah" "Blessed Solstice" or "Have a good Ramadan" is appropriate.

This morning I found myself wondering, "Why do we just *wish* that
people have a good Christmas?"

Sure, smiling good wishes, even from a stranger, usually brighten up
anyone's day.  We give gifts, too. We do kind things for the
poor.  Whatever we can afford. 

But all that wishing ... begins to sound a bit wistful.

There's been a sign up in Metro buses for the last month: "Give
experiences instead of stuff." The traditional experiences of Christmas
are visiting loved ones, hugging, eating, baking, drinking, caroling,
partying, exchanging presents, enjoying the sight of seasonal
decorations and lights, in some areas the seasonal carousel or sleigh
ride or community ice skating.

Most of it's over the next day except for the leftover turkey and at
least some of the toys (in my experience, the simpler and hardier ones
last longer) and the Fruitcake That Will Not Die.

How many times do you get to give someone a life-changing experience for

Most of us would like to do that.  Most of us think we can't afford
to; don't know anyone with a need we are capable of filling, that would
change their lives; it seems to take all the energy we have to keep our
own lives on track and try to influence our children.

I think that's because there's never been as concerted a marketing
campaign for "change your world" as there has been for "consume your

The commercial market goes after every depth of pocketbook.  They'd
rather have your $1700 for a new computer that will keep your daughter's
educational development competitive with other six year olds, but
they'll take your $1.95 for a small pack of crayons.

What if that same flexibility were applied to finding out what amount of
life-change for others we can afford to make?
*Passing on a compliment.
*Not passing on an insult -- even when it was very, very witty.
*Making a compliment.
*An encouraging word for someone trying something new and scary.
*Taking time to listen.
*Talking to someone you've been taught to ignore -- like a black man, or
a homeless person.
*Speaking up when someone makes an abusive or dangerously inaccurate
*Staying calm under attack, and venting your anger somewhere else.
*Taking the time to research a rumor, then spreading the facts to
counter it.
*Returning good for evil.
*Passing on information: about job openings, publication opportunities,
sales, scholarships ...
*Buying from companies that you know return a fair amount of their
profits to their workers, in wages and benefits and workplace
conditions; who don't over-pay their executives; who treat the
environment responsibly.  Even when that costs more.
*Praising little-known artists, writers, film-makers, craft-folk.
*Considering the effect of taxes and other legislation on everyone and
not just on ourselves.
*Paying attention to what is happening around your neighbors' house
while they're away.
*Shouting loudly when you see someone being attacked.  Reporting a crime
or assault in progress.  Testifying as a witness.  Doing jury duty.
*Speaking up for someone whose character is being insulted.
*Getting involved in your local neighborhood association or community
council and working to make sure the needs of everyone in the community
are addressed -- not just those of folks with the most money and leisure
time to play politics.
*Getting toxic spills and other pollution in poor neighborhoods cleaned
*Tutoring a child.
*Giving accurate directions when a stranger asks for them.

Any one of those things might change a life.  You don't always
know.  One effect is certain, though, of doing one or more of them.  

It cuts down a lot on the wistfulness of wishing a Merry Christmas.

An unwistful wish for a very warm Holiday of Your Choice to all of you,
people that I know are working to make a difference in your world.

Write On! / Anitra L. Freeman / http://www.speakeasy.org/~anitra/
"We can't help everyone.  We can't fix everything.  It hurts. 
 But it is better to live with pain than to live without caring."