Column: Let me tell you about Christmas

Every commercial huckster in the known universe has been out there preying upon folks who celebrate the season.

Thank God the Christmas season is over.

Every commercial huckster in the known universe has been out there preying upon folks who celebrate the season.

There are even a few folks who remember whose birthday we were supposed to be celebrating.

I don’t want to sound rude, but I’m not much of a believer in celebrations where the main point seems to be merchants and credit card companies urging us all to spend a lot of money we don’t actually have.

I read somewhere that the average Canadian spent almost $1,500 this year on Christmas presents, a large percentage of which have already been returned for cash or something more useful or desirable.

If that’s true, I want to tell you that someone out there spent a lot more than $1,500 to make up for my own miserable contribution, which I estimate was less than $50.

I’ve got a suggestion for you folks in the carriage trade category. Next year, instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on presents for people like yourselves who aren’t suffering from a lack of material wealth any way, take the same amount of money and contribute it to the charity of your choice. Or, better yet, find a family experiencing real needs and give them the money, or assemble a similarly generous hamper and deliver it in person. You’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel on Christmas day and every other day for a long time.

One of the most humbling experiences I ever took part in was years ago when my boss and I delivered hampers to needy homes. Everywhere we stopped, we were shown joy, gratitude and relief from people who might not otherwise have had anything to eat or presents to open. Ever since then, I have not been able to enjoy any Christmas that involved too much concentration on material exchanges among people who already have too much stuff in their lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love those big family gatherings and the bounty of a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings. That’s where it’s at for me at Christmas time. Small, practical presents for the little kids and sharing the fellowship of just being together.

I sometimes feel ashamed of the community I have lived in for more than 60 years when I see the suffering and deprivation of homeless people and others who have little reason to celebrate Christmas or any other holiday. Providing an extra hot meal or two at this time of year can’t do much to relieve the pain of their existence.

Somehow we have to begin to deal with the twin issues of poverty and homelessness throughout the year, not just assuage our guilty consciences by tossing a few dollars in the Salvation Army kettles at Christmas time.

I can already hear the moans about how costly it is going to be to provide adequate assistance and service to all the needy people in our community. I’m here to tell you that throwing a mat on a concrete floor for those homeless folks to sleep on and then throwing them back onto the street the next morning is a hell of a lot more costly in the long run.

The city already collects millions of dollars in taxes and other fees from liquor and gambling oriented businesses that could more than adequately fund what would be a great start on a permanent facility and services directed towards solving these issues.

The provincial and federal governments have been almost invisible in their attitude towards solving these serious social issues, as evidenced in the case of the Iron Horse safe house for teens. But both governments are super willing to accept their share of the taxes generated by socially marginal businesses.

It’s time to quit the hand-wringing exercises and do away with political speeches full of weasel words and get down to the serious business of meeting our social responsibilities head on.

And, before I forget, Happy New Year.

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor.