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When Christmas isn't so wonderful

When Christmas isn't so wonderful

When Christmas isn't so wonderful

7 December 2016

Photo: Ben White

By Casey O'Brien Machado

“Simply having a wonderful Christmas time” – the words of Paul McCartney’s song ring out at this time of year in almost every shopping centre you visit. The thing is, his words are not true for everyone. In fact, for many, while Christmas may be simple, it is anything but wonderful.

As American economist James Heckman stated, “Some kids win the lottery at birth; far too many don’t – and most people have a hard time catching up over the rest of their lives.” I was one of those who won the lottery when it came to my birth and childhood, and this was exemplified every Christmas. My memories are filled with carolling, robust meals (and leftovers for days), the joy of seeing others open the presents I had given them and always ample-filled Santa sacks. Yet my experiences in life have seen me meet many who perhaps did not “win the lottery at birth”, and this, too, was exemplified every Christmas.

Almost half of those families who come to The Salvation Army for assistance throughout the year cannot afford upto-date school items, nor do they have money to participate in school activities¹. In addition, 90 per cent of people who came to The Salvation Army for assistance reported that they do not have $500 in savings for an emergency.

What does this mean for Christmas? It means an even more difficult time financially than the rest of the year. It means choosing between Christmas dinner or a Christmas present. It may mean putting on a brave face so the rest of the family doesn’t know the real situation. It may mean visiting The Salvation Army to get a gift for the kids.

Those people mentioned above are not in need of a handout. While a toy for the kids, or a hamper of food to cover Christmas dinner is certainly helpful, so, too, is friendship, a listening ear and some help to discover tools to help manage everyday life. The Salvation Army’s role at Christmas is not to provide a handout but relationship, connection, understanding and Christ’s love.

Give HopeAn ad used as part of The Salvation Army's Christmas appeal.

And yet so many of us “Salvationists” choose to overlook, or put out of mind, the fact that people are struggling at Christmas. We see the Salvos’ ads which tell us that Christmas is not a time of extravagance and joy for everyone, and we thank God that the Army is providing for them – but is this enough?

This is not about feeling guilty about what we have. Christmas is a time for us to celebrate God coming to Earth and we do this through rich celebration. I believe that God wants us to celebrate the joy of his son coming to Earth. However, we must be mindful in the midst of this celebration. As followers of Christ, what better time is there to follow his example of including the excluded.

It’s not about feeling guilty, it’s about us remembering that Christ came to Earth to bring his Kingdom here, and that as a result of that coming we are to do the same – right throughout the year and at Christmas.

What does this mean for us at Christmas? It means taking the time to recognise when someone is struggling. It may mean contacting your corps or local Salvos Connect to see if there is anyone you could invite for Christmas lunch. It may mean inviting your neighbour to a carol service. It may mean whatever.

Let’s have a mindful Christmas this year. Let’s be mindful that there are some in the world (and yes, in our own country, in our own city and likely in our own street) for whom Christmas will not be “simply wonderful”. Let’s be mindful, and act on that mindfulness as individuals, not just as The Salvation Army. Let us be the ones who show Christ’s love this Christmas – through the giving of not only our ample resources but of our time and our love.

¹Out of Reach, The Salvation Army’s National Economic and Social Impact Survey 2016.

Casey O'Brien Machado is Territorial Social Justice Coordinator.

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