All I want for …*

Dec 24, 2008 at 6:00 am

My family celebrates Christmas. I’m not sure what yours does, although if you live in Louisville, statistics show it’s probably Christmas, Hanukkah or Bailout, if we’re going by denomination.

’Tis the season, and in all likelihood you’re doing something that involves extended family, the exchanging of gifts and the traditional gorging of oneself, regardless of your feelings on a supreme being — a convenient post-colonial write-in to allow for full commercial capabilities.

I grew up Catholic, although to say a thing like that — as people often do — is misleading. I was raised by a Catholic family and educated in the attendant schools, and for a time went to church (although never of my own accord).

Around the time I got a driver’s license, the option of whether to go to church every Sunday presented itself, and I turned away from the church, the belief system, and most of the religious structure around me. I remember attempting to make cogent intellectual arguments to my parents about why I shouldn’t be forced to go to church, why I no longer believed in this form of God and could not say with certainty that I ever had. I think they finally just gave up. I had (and still have) boundless energy for argument, a difficult quality when manifest in some idiot teen fighting to sleep in on the Sabbath.

And so it was that I became bored with Sundays, bored with not going to church, bored with the argument I was convinced I’d won. I realized that my aversion to Christianity was borne of laziness, based mostly on a disdain for the constructed traditions of Catholicism because they did not fit with my schedule, and having very little to do with any principle. It was kind of a dirty realization.

Don’t get me wrong: I have always questioned and challenged authority (ask my parents or the publisher of this newspaper, har har), sometimes to my own detriment, and the church appeared at that time to be a vindictive, inauthentic and controlling authority, like a bad cop. I wanted nothing to do with it, and I still don’t, for many of the same reasons (some of which I’ve enumerated here over the last little while — I’ll spare your holiday cheer today).

And thus I arrive at a point: Christmas guilt. It’s that niggling feeling of fraudulence that accompanies every present I buy, every one I receive, every bite of food I take in the deep and fantastic comfort of my extended family. I have it. You might, too.

Sure, you can pretty easily argue that Christmas — henceforth a proxy for whatever winter solstice holiday you practice — is so distant from its religious origins that the common American interpretation is an overly commercial, overly sentimental occasion to catch a break from the grind.

Fine. You’re off the hook.

Let me suggest a way to overcome Christmas guilt in a way that can be positive for others, too.

Think of something you believe in, fundamentally. Maybe it’s human rights or the worldwide advancement of democracy. Maybe it’s U of L basketball.

Now think of a way you can, beginning this Christmas, work to advance it. I’m not talking about a quit-your-job-for-the-greater-good deal here; this is something you can do in your free time, a relatively low but steady commitment to something you believe in. It will become a gift from you to those you help.

Perhaps every time you walk past a homeless person, you get a sinking feeling in your stomach. Volunteer at a shelter once a week, or once a month.

Perhaps you know people whose lives have been ruined by disastrous coal mining practices. Call and write your elected officials, and ask them to require coal companies to be safer and more humane.

Perhaps you would like to see fewer abortions in America. There are many shorthanded organizations trying to educate and protect young people who are interested in sex. Offer your support.

Perhaps you recognize that many people from places where war and despotism are de rigueur are now here in America, just skidding by. Offer your time, your clothes, your purse and your knowledge of the city.

Think of the gifts you could give.

*Insert politically correct and/or religiously appropriate birth-of-a-savior or redemption-of-mankind name and narrative here.