With each passing year, two beloved traditions seem to come earlier than they did just the year before. One, of course, is the beginning of the Official Christmas Season™, followed by the beginning of the Official Bemoaning of Christmas Comes Too Early Now Season (not a trademark yet, but I am working on it).
In some ways, Christmas does come earlier each year, that is if you measure Christmas by how quickly stores put away corporate America's mass-produced Halloween treats and decorations in favor of corporate America's mass-produced Christmas treats and decorations, or by the six hours earlier each year Black Friday starts, a trend that will functionally eliminate Thanksgiving in only three more years.
I'm not sure anyone's ever explained why it's a bad thing that this happens, especially since it seems most people's Thanksgivings aren't warm and fuzzy, unless by warm and fuzzy you mean throwing your plate at your racist uncle and screaming at your mother to please, for the love of God, please just forget about Susie Johnson because, yes, she was the best thing to ever happen to you, but she's not ever coming back. Erasing Thanksgiving from the calendar certainly wouldn't be bad for me.
But the truth is that Christmas doesn't truly begin until we hear someone mention for the first time that the season is all about "giving." Suddenly and forcefully, we are reminded about those among us who are less fortunate. Oh and that this is the best time to dig down into our pockets and give generously to the needy. 'Tis the season, and all.
And how do we then help the poor and less fortunate during this most wonderful time of the year? Well, by buying even more stuff, of course. That's why Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so you can keep those dollars flowing in all the right directions.
Shopping — that's always the answer to our problems, isn't it? Terrorism? Go shopping. Climate change? Buy a newer, greener car. Corporate hegemony? Buy local. Poverty? Buy stuff and give it away. We are never asked to worry about the underlying causes of the problems we face; we just need to spend money we don't have on things we don't need. So run up the outrageous credit card debt, because, who knows, maybe next year it will be your children receiving gifts from Toys for Tots.
I know that many, if not most of you, reading this piece will probably be outraged at my seeming indifference or callousness to charity, especially at this time of year. If so, you've missed the point.
If you also want to remind me of all the lovely work your favorite non-profit does throughout the year for the poor and the needy, you're also missing the point.
And if you want to encourage me to get out there and volunteer, again, you've missed the point.
I am concerned about the other, perhaps unintended consequences of seasonal charity that should bother any human being to their core.
It's not that we shouldn't care for those who are less fortunate; it's that we should think about whether or not we are perpetuating a system that allows people to continue being less fortunate. If making that suggestion is terrible, then I suppose I'm terrible for wanting to question why we allow people to keep on being poor just so we can look forward to being charitable a few weeks out of the year.
Yes, charities do fantastic work, but they are also doing work that in a just society simply would not need to be done except in the most extreme cases. Again, perhaps it is time to wonder if we want to live in a world where charities take in billions of dollars in donations each year and become self-perpetuating machines instead of agents for real and permanent change in our society.
Maybe instead of complaining that Christmas comes too early, we should just drop all the pretense and celebrate Christmas year-round, that way, charities could finally become the social safety net that they aim to be and that years of right-wing tax policy, which replaces the forced altruism of government redistribution of wealth with equally coercive faith-based initiatives, have given them latitude to become. If we do that, everyone wins. We can all donate to charity instead of paying taxes or, gasp, questioning our deeper economic problems. Who knows, maybe a year-round Christmas will even begin to affect the disparate ownership of wealth in this country?
I don't know about you, but if that's what it takes to get us to a point where income inequality and poverty actually begin to decline, then I'm OK with singing even the worst Christmas songs all year long.