Let’s throw those bums a bone

The Thinker by Rodin

Merry Christmas to you, particularly if you happen to be Christian. Presumably, the birth of Jesus means more to you than it does to me. Because I do not believe in Jesus’s  divinity, I cannot claim to be a Christian, except perhaps in spirit. Like most Americans, I participate in many aspects of Christmas anyhow. I am not beyond festooning my house with Christmas lights, putting up a Christmas tree and even putting an angel on its top. Aside from the usual presents under our tree for loved ones who rarely need nor want what I buy them, I was a real Santa Claus this year. It did not involved donning a red suit, but it did involve spending about $100 on presents for a 3 year old girl named Jaylee, for whom I am a Secret Santa. I won’t meet her but she will get things she really wants but which her family cannot afford, including a Dora the Explorer doll and a three wheel scooter. We also spent a few hundred dollars on food for the homeless that we donated to a nearly empty community food bank.

Nuclear moneyed families will use the occasion of the season to tune into various holiday TV specials, some of which are actually religious. Most of these turns out to be feel-good shows, like the latest Hallmark holiday special starring my heartthrob Jewel Staite. In it, apparently two people and a motherless boy find love, not in Jesus, but in each other. Many of these specials are animated, and many are frankly dreadful to watch, even for children. Many contain more saccharine than saccharine itself. Most people would say that A Charlie Brown Christmas is the holiday special that most closely evokes the religious aspects of Christmas. For me, How the Grinch stole Christmas is most appropriate for our modern times. It is clear that Jesus was no fan of the rich. The Grinch epitomizes the soulless, possession-obsessed, anti-poor overlords about to overrun our House of Representatives, people so soulless they cannot wait to cut unemployment benefits and food stamps, even for their own constituents.

If ever there were a time when we needed more of the true Christmas spirit, 2010 would be it. Food banks are bare. Homeless shelters are overflowing. The only way to get Congress to extend unemployment benefits is to continue to borrow obscene amounts of money to give tax cuts to millionaires who don’t need the money and have been living on government largess for much of the last decade. 99’ers (those unemployed for 99 weeks or more) are now out of luck and will get not even coal in their stockings, which at least would provide a little heat. Instead, they will likely soon be found standing in a cold queue for a cot in their local homeless shelter. Letting them eat cake is clearly too rich for them, but apparently cheaper than buying them fruits and vegetables. With their food stamps benefits exhausted and their food pantries empty, their next dinner may come courtesy of the dumpster behind the local Wendy’s restaurant. To add to their misery, Lord, it’s cold out there, at least here in northern Virginia. We’ve gone weeks without seeing forty degrees and today we are getting gusts of wind up to forty miles an hour. It has only occasionally crept above the freezing point.

Not that we, especially us purported Christians, really will care all that much. We will comfort ourselves with the fantasy that through ensuring that our citizens are miserable, we are providing the virtue of self-reliance, all at no cost to our wallets. We are teaching them to fish, so to speak, although many of them are reeled in like fish. Our legislators whine that we cannot afford to put them on Medicaid or give them emergency housing. The social safety net is so yesterday. The homeless can spend their days shuttling between the dumpsters at Wendy’s, the line at the homeless shelter and the emergency room for their pneumonia, which is fine with us because none of these are on our commutes. Out of sight, out of mind.

Surely, all this recession-fed self-reliance and austerity will eventually bear fruit, although so far in Ireland, Greece, England and elsewhere the evidence that austerity has any advantages beyond making the less moneyed more vulnerable and scared cannot be found. All this is necessary because we have been living beyond our modest means, but also because while the rich like being rich a lot, they like being richer even more, and have no qualms if it is done by making the middle class impoverished. It’s good to be a creditor and if you threaten to stop loaning money, even first world countries get scared and start cutting spending.

It would be great if the so called Christians and humanitarians among us would practice what we profess. In two days, we celebrate the birth of Jesus who implored those of us with possessions to give them to the poor. There is little sign that the rich will do so, unless they can be bribed to write it off on their taxes. With the top one percent of the country owning over 42 percent of the national wealth (as of 2007), the rich can afford to pay much more to feed, house and cloth our abundant poor. Much of our national misery is self-inflicted because wealth redistribution is now anathema. It has to be voluntary, but the rich at least cannot seem to summon the will to pony up some small measure of their vast treasure at this miserable time. In short, the vast majority of them are apparently as Christian as Attila the Hun.

So Merry Christmas to all of you who are food, sleep and/or shelter deprived. With luck, the winter won’t leave your old coat too threadbare. As for the rest of us, while raising that glass of eggnog, let’s acknowledge our true feelings about the poor and the homeless, as found in this Bob Rivers’s parody of the of tune “Home for the Holidays”:

Oh there’s food for the homeless on the holidays
‘Cause no matter how filthy and uncombed
If your down on your luck, you can really graze
For the holidays we throw those bums a bone

I met a man who drank and smelled of pee
He was headin’ for the local mission for some homemade pumpkin pie
Pan-handlin’ folks are always hangin’ round by the discount liquor store
And they’re not too brand specific
Gee a buck would be terrific

But there’s food for the homeless on the holidays
There’s a turkey just like Mama made at home
If they pine for redemption from their heathen ways
Come the holidays we’ll throw those bums a bone

Take a piss in your pants til you smell like you’re from France
Put some vino in a crumpled paper sack
Though you’re smellin’ like a beast you’ll treated to a feast
want second? Come right back!

There’s lots of food for the homeless on the holidays
Have some pumpkin pie and ham with provolone
We don’t care if they eat dog food on the other days
When you call a cardboard box your home sweet home
For the holidays we’ll toss those bums a bone

Have yourself a Bob Rivers Christmas

The Thinker by Rodin

Let’s face it. For most of us, Christ was taken out of Christmas a long time ago. This includes even many devoted Christians. It is only when watching A Charlie Brown Christmas that most of us give any thought at all to the true meaning of Christmas. Across the globe the Christmas contagion is spreading. This includes many non-Christian countries where Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. Instead, Christmas is personified by the harmless and benevolent presence of Santa Claus, in all his myriad cultural manifestations. In Tokyo or Beijing, you would have to look hard for a Christian church but Santas, Christmas trees and rampant holiday shopping abounds. Rather than celebrating Jesus’ birth, today Christmas is tangentially about a generic feeling of spreading good cheer. Mostly it is about buying and getting stuff. The world would sink into a depression were there were no Christmas economy.

Like most of you, I saw unwelcome signs of Christmas way back in September, when an aisle stocked with popular Christmas toys and artificial Christmas trees first appeared in our local BJs. Most retailers will refrain from playing Christmas music until Black Friday, but many are sneaking in Christmas songs starting in early November. It is obvious to me that capitalism is our state religion and mammon is our state god. The devout among us may hustle to church once a week or more, but given our super-sized houses and the SUVs lined up in our driveways, is there really any doubt about where are real values lie? Give all your possession to the poor and follow Jesus? That stuff is so dated. Today it is laughable and suitable only for Salvation Army volunteers and cloistered monks and nuns.

Given the hollowness that seems to be at the root of our modern Christmas, it is no wonder so many people like my wife would be happy to skip Christmas altogether. Yet like all of us, each year she is caught in its vortex. Denial does not work for long and only adds to the pain. This year she also threw a vertebra. She is still popping the pain pills and running to chiropractors. This meant that I have carried an extra amount of the Christmas madness this year. Increasingly I, like her, ask myself why I am doing this.

I am doing it in part because we always do it, and my neighbors do it, everyone except the Jews and the Muslims seem to do it (and many of the Jews do it just for the fun or to blend in) and because it is expected. In addition, there is this tradition in our house called The Christmas Dinner. My relatives from the immediate area descend on our house. There they revel in our Christmas tree, eat our highly caloric and fattening food and after a few hours shuffle back to their houses and their clean kitchens. Meanwhile, my feeling of good cheer is manifest in my dishpan hands.

Aside from writing checks to charities, which I do routinely near the end of the year, I did accomplish one small little act in spirit of a Dickensian Christmas. A couple weeks back I read how neighborhood food banks were running dry. People were going hungry at a time when food banks are normally overrun with food. The likely culprit is the higher cost of food, fed by our ravenous desire for energy. Instead of filling USDA warehouses, much of our grain crop is instead going into producing ethanol and bio-diesel fuels. I took the news article as my belated personal call to action. I went to the BJs and loaded the back of my car with nearly $200 in food. Only, I could find no place to readily donate the food. I did not particularly want to drive into Washington DC to donate it. I ended up waiting a few days and donating it to Reston Interfaith. The news reports were sadly accurate. I was hoping that more like me would feel called to buy food for the poor. Yet I arrived to find that their pantry nearly bare. My donations went right into food baskets for the hungry.

So what is Christmas really about these days? We need to face the truth. Christmas has become a reason to buy stuff for people we know, much of which they neither particularly need nor want. This giving is often done at the expense of the poor who need things like food to avoid hunger or money to live in some place bigger than a cardboard box. Perhaps due to this incongruity, as my daughter and I assembled our Christmas tree this year, instead of putting Bing Crosby on the stereo system, we put on Bob Rivers‘ CD of Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire instead.

Bob Rivers is a radio personality on KZOK in Seattle, Washington. This present, thoughtfully given to us some years back by my irreverent and atheist brother Tom, is the perfect rejoinder to our overly commercialized Christmas season. It is actually one of a number of Bob Rivers’ irreverent Christmas CDs. You can order these CDs from his web site. Finally, you can laugh along to new lyrics to those Christmas carols so burned into your brain you wish you could purge them but cannot.

Given the recently released Chipmunks movie, Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire is especially relevant this year. I do not know about you, but I hate those damned animated chipmunks. I hated them even when I was a small child. They were even more annoying than that prancing and singing purple dinosaur I had to endure when my daughter was growing up and whose name I loathe to repeat. Few images conjure up more delight in me than having those three chipmunks dripping in barbeque sauce over a hot hibachi. Yet, as delightful as this song is, the most apropos for the season was actually Christmas Money (sung to the tune of Money, That’s What I Want), which hilariously summarizes the mindless greed of the holidays. On the Bob Rivers’ web site, you can listen to samples from this CD.

Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire is bawdy, hilarious, irreverent and helps put our whole strange modern manifestation of Christmas season into its proper place. Bob Rivers must have good connections in the Seattle area because he gets some amazing imitators for famous singers. For example, he highlights a singer who imitates Karen Carpenter so well that it is as if she is still alive. Other songs ring surprisingly true. Homeless for the Holidays, for example, captures quite well the true feelings many of us have toward the homeless, given how we tend to ignore them except for during the holiday season. Decorations, sung to a Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations song, parodies our excessiveness with Christmas lights. Pokemon (sung to the tune of Tidings of Comfort and Joy) hilariously makes fun at the craziness of getting your kid that impossible to find toy for Christmas.

Every song is hilarious. Of course, you cannot get these songs for free, at least not legally. However, if you shell out $13.98 on Bob River’s web site you can get it as well as purchase many of his other likely hilarious musical parodies.

It is wrong to be evil during the Christmas season, but in my mind, it is okay to be a bit naughty. Next year, let loose the phoniness and sanctimoniousness of the season. Fill yourself with irreverent holiday mirth instead by listening to Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.