Christmas: A time of year filled with joy, happiness and abundance…right? The holidays involve all that is good: indulging in decadent foods, family memory making, vacationing, and of course an excessive number of presents. Enforced through Christmas movie specials, exclusively optimistic holiday tunes and social media, the idea of a “perfect” Christmas is extremely popular. Yet, this stereotypical and idealistic view of Christmas could not be farther from reality. The notion that when Christmas rolls around each year life will be perfect for all, is challenged by increasing poverty levels, government corruption, child abuse, devastating religious wars, and the millions that don’t have homes or in some parts of the world don’t even have running water. These and many other issues can easily be forgotten amidst Christmas tree decorating, cookie making, or holiday shopping, but will always linger even during the holiday season. Christmas in Chelsea presents a challenge as well: Many Chelsea citizens struggle with finding the perfect gift to buy a friend or family member. What does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas: A holiday originally centered around compassion, love, and helping others has furtively evolved and morphed into something entirely different. It is projected that this Christmas season, Americans will break previously set records by spending over one trillion dollars on holiday related items and gifts. Additionally, the average American parent spends an astonishing 422 U.S dollars per child for Christmas. These numbers are a scary and ironic reminder of how fortunate those living in safe and affluent cities are, and they remind us of what Christmas is supposed to be about.
That average $422 spent on gifts can provide a hot meal for 275 homeless adults at an Emergency Shelter. It can shelter and feed six women for a day, and provide them with health care, counseling, and other special services for the homeless, the battered, and women leaving the sex trade. Just over the four-hundred-dollar mark can print 2,000 emergency services cards with phone numbers, addresses and the hours when service providers can help. It can buy 200 pairs of warm socks for distribution at shelters and Health Centers. Provide 250 toothbrushes or 300 tubes of toothpaste through dental clinics. Pay for 570 bus tickets which help those living in poverty and the homeless get to jobs, job interviews, medical appointments, grocery stores, and other transportation needs. It is also enough to purchase 180 “meal-replacement” drinks for the homeless, which are full of vitamins and minerals–and help many hungry people who suffer from malnutrition. It can also buy a new Xbox or a 4k TV. Four hundred plus dollars is willingly shelled out for extra toys, appliances, clothes, and electronics every year as local shelters attempt to scrape together enough donations just to provide food for families on Christmas day. It is, at the very least, imperative to be conscious and grateful for what is yours, the opportunities that are accessible to you and the toothbrush you hopefully own.
As Christmas approaches, parents who are struggling financially feel extreme pressure and anxiety to create a “normal” Christmas for their children. Already struggling to afford the basic necessities–rent, food, heat, electricity, warm water, etc.–purchasing Christmas presents can be impossible. Last year in Michigan there were 41,812 homeless children that had to seek shelter as the weather became dangerously cold and the merry holiday of Christmas neared. Similar to American spending patterns on Christmas gifts, the number of children without a home and living below the national poverty threshold this holiday season is predicted to increase.
It is difficult to imagine the feeling a child has after racing down stairs and looking under the Christmas tree only to see nothing but harsh, cold tile or dreary matted carpet. Not one present, morsel of stale candy, shred of wrapping paper or a sliver of Christmas to be seen. After a couple of Christmases does the child learn not to expect anything? Do they adapt to listening to their peers at school discussing the toys they have received? What does Christmas mean to them?
It’s even more difficult to understand the feelings of this child’s parent, who just like all parents wants more than anything to make his or her child happy. But with no other option than to pay rent, purchase needed groceries, give to the electricity company, and pay medical bills, certain parents are forced to refrain from buying the toy their kid wants and is obliged to stand near when their child races down the stairs. These parents are forced to witness the heartbroken expression on their loved one’s face. These parents must embrace a face sopped with tears. Parents have no choice but to respond when their little one asks, “why didn’t Santa bring me any presents this year?”