Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bringing hope to the poor

Christmas shopping and stress
Once upon a time, the commercial pitch for Christmas shopping began on Black Friday. This year, it had begun by November 10. We had yet to commemorate Remembrance Day. American Thanksgiving and Black Friday were still two weeks away. The commercial hype around Christmas seems to begin earlier every year.

Coincidental with all of the holiday hype are tips to avoid holiday stress. One important tip from experts is to determine your spending limit, and stick to it. Despite warnings that consumer debt is out of control, and predictions of a slowing global economy that will negatively impact the Canadian economy, recent surveys show that Canadians will overspend their holiday budget. One television reporter, after interviewing shoppers in a big city mall, cheerfully concluded that Christmas spending is “priceless if it puts a smile on young faces.”

The reporter’s upbeat message was certainly in keeping with the Christmas spirit of good cheer. The message is a feel-good one if a family can afford “priceless.” The reality, though, is that many Canadians cannot afford their Christmas spending splurge. If Christmas can be stressful for those who have some purchasing power, imagine how stressful the holiday season must be for those who live in poverty.

The season accentuates need
Statistics Canada puts the poverty rate at 1 in 10 Canadians. The rate is even higher for children. The before tax poverty line for a family of 4 living in an urban area is $41, 307. Many poor families earn only$27, 107 before taxes. That’s a whopping $14, 200 below the base line.

During the Christmas season, those who live in poverty must feel the desperation of their situation more keenly that at other times of the year. The poor are shut out of the ubiquitous feel-good commercial message that bombards consumers before Christmas.

The over-commercialization of the Christmas holiday distracts from the more meaningful aspects of the celebration of Christmas. The relentless advertising campaigns send some messages about Christmas that do not ring true for many Canadians, especially for those living in poverty.

The commercialization of Christmas presents an image of a universally happy time. Everyone has money to spend, good food and drink to enjoy, and the fellowship of people who love them. In Christmas commercials, the holiday season meets everyone’s expectations. And, all these things – gifts, food, drink, and love – in the world of Christmas advertising depend on spending freely.

Traditions express a spiritual reality
Gift giving, feasting and celebrating are integral parts of Christmas. They can express a spiritual reality about human existence. The spiritual underpinnings of Christmas give the season its meaning and joy.

In the New Testament tradition, the weeks before Christmas are all about hope for the future. The birth of a baby, born in lowly circumstances, reveals God’s generous love for humanity that will restore justice to the world.

In the Christmas story, poor shepherds come from the surrounding hillsides, and wealthy magi come from afar to adore the baby Jesus, who is born in a stable. The message from the stable, where both shepherds and kings gather, is that God’s love is inclusive. No one is shut out from the generous gift of God’s wondrous love.

Charity is important but we can do more
Thousands of Canadians, irrespective of religious belief, imitate this divine generosity during the holiday season. The season heightens our awareness of those who are less fortunate. We respond to the needs of others in a much more comprehensive way than at any other time of the year. We give freely to food banks, and toy drives. We contribute dollars to organizations that serve the poor. Our charity gives hope, brings priceless smiles to the faces of young and old alike, and sends the message that someone cares.

Our material generosity at Christmas is really only a band-aid solution to need. The social problem of poverty remains long after we have swept up the needles from the tree, and stowed the Christmas decorations away for another year. The poor remain poor. We can live the Christmas message of generosity year round. Not only can we continue to be charitable, we can add advocacy to our charity, and work to reduce poverty.

Once upon a time, there was a land where everyone had enough food, a warm home, and hope for the future dwelt in their hearts. The Christmas story invites us to create the feel-good ending of ‘happily ever after’.

Images Credits and links:
Credit card image courtesy of

Shopping Santa courtesy of Kittisak at

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