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 Christmas?

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 world."

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.
  • Giving 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 comment.
  • 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.
  • Voting.
  • Paying attention to what is happening around your neighbor's 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 up.
  • 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.

Anitra Freeman Column Directory

The Bird Homeless