Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat. Won't you please put a penny in the old man's hat? If you haven't got a penny, a ha-penny will do. If you haven't got a ha-penny . . .
If you haven't got a half-penny, you are part of the other eighty percent of the inhabitants of this planet.
Christmas is the biggest and most meaningful of the western world's traditions. In time and money invested, in emotional energy expended, in weight and solemnity, no other event can touch the celebration of Christ's birth.
To the end of making this occasion joyous and festive, the Christian world spends eighty billions of dollars annually. On gifts; on parties; on travel; on decoration and adornment. The yearly Christmas expenditure in the United States equals the entire financial worth of many governments. The amount spent on candy alone is staggering—half a billion dollars! More money is spent on gift-wrapping materials each year than on all charities combined.
To the end of maintaining "tradition," five hundred million trees die each winter. They die before seeding. They die to the sole purpose of bringing into dreary little boxes the same sight and smell the inhabitants could get free every day, simply by seeking out the land they have fled with their bodies and yearn for with their souls.
To the end of proving our charity and assuaging our consciences, each year we "give." We buy "seals." We drop a penny or a quarter on the bum whom we avoid the other three hundred and forty-odd days of the year. We remember the church and put something in the plate.
All this to the end of remembering the birth of a son to a small town carpenter who was on the lam—a political refugee—and who could find no other place for his wife to deliver than a stable.
Yet this boy—this child in whose name we perform such costly rituals—never owned more than the clothes on his back, gave no commemorative gifts, sent no cards, cut no trees. His were gifts of person and power: never things which could be bought with money.
To the end of assuring ourselves that this is a time of fulfillment, and that all is right in the world, we make ourselves festive meals and great wassail. We lay a heavy board with meats and cake. We stuff the goose with oyster and spices and serve him in his own fat.
Meanwhile, back in Watts—and Appalachia, and Harlem and most of the rest of this fine country and world—there are no itinerant Santa Clauses. Because there is no money to be sucked out of the people. The loan sharks do a booming business though. They know a poor man will scramble and perjure himself into abject misery to provide a bright Christmas for his family, so that for a moment they might forget their condition.
Where have we come to? We make a show of greed and compulsion and status in the name of innocence and love. We do not "give," we "buy for." We exhibit no charity, only guilty conscience. We slaughter our natural resources in the name of life. And meanwhile, over half our brothers on this earth are hungry.
Let us pause this holiday season and give a moment to consider what it stands for. We are entering the last few years of man's tenure on earth, so perhaps we can—just for a moment—break the hypnosis that binds us to these unfeeling and costly perversions of the Great Rituals of love and charity. Let us think of doing just one little thing which will be true to the fine Pagan spirit that the Christmas rituals are founded upon. Let us do some small service for our fellow creatures.
To this end, let me tell you what I am doing. Not to prove my worthiness, but to offer you some concrete starting points.
First off, I have no tree—not in the Christmas Tree sense. I have, instead, a live, potted tree. After the season, I will take it to Malibu Canyon and plant it in the burned earth, that some life might be reborn there.
I give no gifts—nor cards. I personally know no one to whom I would traditionally send gifts or cards who is either hungry or homeless, thus they are not in need. The people I treasure—and who treasure me—need no gifts to measure esteem by, and those who need tokens are not truly friends.
I have, instead, converted what resource I have available into commemorative and used stamps which I send to a small church in Chicago. The ladies of this church trade the stamps for surplus government food, which they distribute to orphanages and the needy. One used stamp, believe it or not, buys a half pound of surplus food.
I do not give to organized charities—Salvation Army; that sort of thing. These may be honest, charitable groups as far as they go, but they do not go far enough for me. I keep thinking how many children could be fed by the money spent on uniforms and modern buildings and the director's Cadillac.
I do not give to the church. I can't help thinking of the Chicanos in the barrio, and of how out-of-place they would look in Saint Basil's, the two million dollar church the Catholics threw up on Wilshire to compete with the synagogue across the street.
I make no feast. I will have an open house for visiting and talking and being with my friends. But there will be only such food and drink as we bring to share, and none of it fancy . . .
These are not things done to garner reward. Neither false modesty nor smug self-righteousness. They are simply attempts on my part to live within the spirit of the occasion in spite of the Great Shuck that has become our heritage. For you, perhaps, they may seem ineffectual . . . or pointless—or worse—hypocritical. If so, I can only say, "Do your own thing."
Just give a moment's thought to what it is that you do. To what you are celebrating, and why. Take that long pause to consider where we are, what has brought us to this place, and where we are going. Trace the branch to the tree, the tree to its roots. Look into history and your own heart. Then, in the most joyous spirit you have, share with your Brother and Sister a very happy Christmas.