Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth
Stevie Wonder, “Someday at Christmas” (1967)
One of my favorite Christmas songs is Stevie Wonder’s classic, “Someday at Christmas.” I’ve listened to this song dozens of times during the holiday season and I’ve often thought about how crunk it is (despite its old school gendered language) and how, unfortunately, it is still very relevant. In fact, the day “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed I was in my car listening to this and I thought of the ruling. And while I’m certainly glad LGBT folks in the armed services, including a close family member of mine, won’t have this Draconian ruling hanging over their heads, I cannot, with good conscience, be excited about a law that promotes a military industrial complex that funds imperialism and contributes to all other sorts of mayhem. This trouble in my spirit got me to thinking about some of the other perverse ironies of the holiday season.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not one of those Grinch-type folk around the holidays. I’m a December baby, a Sagittarius to be exact, and I generally revel in merry making during the month of my birth. For me, Hanukah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanza, and New Years Eve means a time for folks to eat a little, drink a little, (okay, a lot) and be with the folk they love. Shoot, I usually feel pretty merry until about Three Kings’ Day! Considering all the hatefulness that struts around calling itself “keeping it real,” “not being politically correct,” and so on, I’m generally cool with merry-making and people feeling good.
But I do find something about the holidays particularly interesting and, I’ll just say it, troubling: charity.
Hold up. Before you call me Scrooge or something or upbraid me for looking down at folks for helping the less fortunate, especially during a season so marked by grotesquely conspicuous consumption, let me make it plain. I think it’s more than wonderful to clothe the sick, feed the hungry, and shelter those with no where to go. In fact, I have, more than once, been on the receiving end of such treatment and I am very thankful for the many donated holiday turkeys and soup kitchen meals that I have eaten as a child. I’ve also had opportunities to pay it forward and that has been more than gratifying.
So, what’s my problem with charity, then? It’s not about being proud and it’s certainly not about thinking folks are not in need. Holiday turkeys are helpful and so is soup on a cold day. But what about when that day is done? I think that those of us who are interested in ameliorating conditions at large have got to think beyond a conservative charity model and think about a more radical social justice model of change. By that I don’t mean doing away with the soup kitchen, but we have to be honest with ourselves about the limitations of charity. We need more than acts of charity that will garner special interest spots on the news, but methods that will incite structural change that can positively impact people’s daily lives in general and not just during the holidays.
I will not claim to have all the answers, but I do know this: we must support organizations that are in the trenches in our communities. They need money. They need time. They need space. They need our support; not just when it’s cute to be giving stuff out so we can feel nice about how progressive we are, but all the time.