The Other Side Of The Story

On Christmas night I sat down for a short while to watch the headlines of the daily news on television.  I have been cutting back on what news I watch recently because of the often traumatic nature of it.  Now days I might watch the first ten minutes and then leave it.  That way I know some of what is going on, but don’t need to torment myself with the rest.

The first story was the record number of people who had attended the Auckland (NZ’s largest city) City Mission Christmas dinner.  These types of free meals have been run in major centres for years, and provide a free meal and entertainment for those who can not afford to have their own celebration.

What struck me was the way the newsreader told it.  There was almost glee in his voice as if he was talking about record numbers attending a car show, or some other event where record numbers would be looked on as a good thing.

For me, I see the record numbers as a terribly bad thing, that more and more people are having to turn to charitable organisations to enable some celebration of Christmas.  We should be looking to find ways of making these numbers go down rather than up.  It’s just wrong.  Ironically there were even people there who were tourists in New Zealand.  the bus tour they were on had brought them there for their Chritmas meal.  I admired the head of the City Mission who said it was fine they were there because they were seeing another side to New Zealand.  I just hope they paid for their meal.

I love that these events happen each year, and actually I have grown up  all my life being part of such events.  My parents would regularly do family Christmas celebrations for us at lunch time on Christmas Day, and then we would be involved in putting on a community meal at night for those who had no where else to go.  Mum would do most of the cooking and Dad would be out front welcoming people.  Us kids were often doing the dishes.

It is wonderful that so many give up their time (and money) to run these meals, but the fact that there is growing need for such events simply suggests to me that people are struggling more and so many people are alone.

This is one event where record-breaking statistics should be very unwelcome.  Yes there will always be people alone, and for them I am glad these events still exist.  But many of the people attending are families who simply can not afford to celebrate Christmas.

Image credit: FB/Fresh Minds Matter

Image credit: FB/Fresh Minds Matter

Straight after Christmas Day, in this country comes Boxing Day on 26 December.  It is a day recognised in most Commonwealth countries (although feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).  Boxing Day used to be a day to go to the beach in New Zealand, or better yet, the day to head off on your summer holiday.

Traditionally though, Boxing Day was a day to give money and gifts to the poor.  I grew up with the explanation that is was the day when servants packed up (in boxes) all the left overs from Christmas, and gave them to the poor.  Also it was a day when servants who had worked hard through Christmas Day, could have time off to visit their own families.

Boxing Day is probably one of those events where there are many different explanations, but it seems that giving to the more needy is a common thread.  I suspect most countries who recognise Boxing Day have lost this aspect to it, and I think that is sad.  I also have this question in my head of why the poor had to wait to simply get what amounts to ‘leftovers’?  And why couldn’t the rich give to the poor before Christmas?

I think what disturbs me most is what has happened to Boxing Day now.  Boxing Day has lost that charitable aspect and now is a consumer day.  It is now the day when the retail sales start, in the same line as the Black Friday sales in the United States after Thanksgiving.

How did we go from a day recognised for giving to the poor, to a mad scramble around the shops to get the best bargains possible?  Isn’t there something wrong with that?

Personally I don’t handle large crowds of people and so the idea of going shopping for the Boxing Day sales is completely beyond me.  I’m not interested in what bargains I might be able to get, and would rather preserve my mental health.

Boxing Day was yesterday in New Zealand, and like I had done the night before, I watched the first ten minutes of the television news.  The headlines were the record sales for the retail sector.

What I’m wondering is how many people buying up on Boxing Day could really afford what they were buying?  How many purchased on credit, and will struggle to pay it off?  And dare I say it, I wonder if there were people at the Christmas Day meals who were also at the sales, trying to get a bargain?  I don’t mean to criticise them personally.  I criticise a system that has the extremes of wealth and poverty, which no one appears to be trying to align.

There is something wrong with this side of the story.  The news readers don’t stop to align the two, but I bet the social workers who will be trying to help people budget their money know it only too well.

“Every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it.” 

―    Rick Bragg,    All Over But the Shoutin’

What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve here in my part of the world.  I have a list of things I need to get done before the day is out, but for now I want to stop, and think about what matters, what really matters to me this Christmas.

Christmas is will be about family for me this Christmas.  I am expected to be part of the family Christmas by some, simply because I don’t have a family (I mean a partner and children) of my own.  But that is small stuff compared to what matters to me.  I play along to meet expectations but really my heart is some place else.

Yesterday I went to a family Christmas lunch.  The whole family wasn’t there, but those I wasn’t going to see on Christmas Day were.  I arrived on time armed with Christmas gifts for the children, only to find they had all started the meal without me.  When I asked why (calmly and politely), there was no explanation forthcoming, and really all it did was tell me yet again, that to those people, I don’t matter.

“Family isn’t always about blood.  It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are.  The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”

I am fortunate to have some family members who are blood-related and fit this definition.  They weren’t there yesterday, sadly.  The people who were there simply told me by their actions that I didn’t matter… and yes, that hurt like hell.

I’m not going to get bogged down in how that hurt, but rather focus my energy on those people who do matter to me, and I know I matter to them.  What is difficult is that this Christmas I am cut off from the people I would prefer to spend Christmas with.  People who would want to include me and want to show their love for me.

I also want to be with my friends who are struggling this Christmas.  Christmas can be a time of hurt and depression, and I hate that.  I really hope that somehow those friends can find some peace tomorrow, and know that they are loved (even from afar)

Those I want to be with are thousands of miles away, and so today I will place them in my heart, where they belong.  And I will take them with me as I celebrate Christmas tomorrow.  That way they are with me, in my heart and the physical distance doesn’t seem so harsh.

And to finish, a quote from my favourite wordsmiths.  Not because it necessarily fits with what I have said, but simply because I like it.

Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)

“CALVIN:   This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery?
If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it?
And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?
HOBBES:   dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?
CALVIN:     Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.” 

 - Bill Watterson