The older I’ve become, the more I agonize over people who don’t have much to celebrate during Christmas. As a CNN junkie, I watch coverage of the war in Afghanistan, see Syrian children in stark refugee camps, view the oppression of Egyptians struggling to achieve democracy, and gasp in shock at the sight of educated people standing on ledges of buildings in Greece, ready to take their lives in the face of overwhelming unemployment. On 60 Minutes, a report about child labor reveals sweatshops in India where small children exist as slaves, weaving rugs all day in horrific conditions. Here at home, in Toronto, where the economy is booming, I see a woman in her seventies, her body bent with age and untreated osteoporosis, wheel her shopping cart into a church where a warm dinner and bed is offered to the homeless. I tutor a girl in her late teens who has been in foster care her entire life. Imagine that…having no family at all for the holidays.
These dark images run through my mind as I decorate the tree, shop, bake, and write Christmas cards. I see blood-stained faces as Deck the Halls blasts through one store’s speakers; I see dirty, calloused feet without shoes as I drive by houses lit up in blue, white and gold. John Lennon’s iconic song, So this is Christmas, plays on the radio, and I think about how disappointed he’d be today, knowing 2,144 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001 in the name of peace.
There is no sign of peace in troubled countries, and children continue to be casualties of war, forced into being child soldiers, raped, orphaned, and killed.
How can we celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah knowing others are suffering so horribly? Part of me wishes I were still a child, when the North Pole was a magical place, when Santa delivered presents to every kid, when I was blissfully ignorant of the real world. And another part of me wishes I were a trillionaire, able to throw money at people in need to appease my conscience, to make a difference.
But money isn’t the solution, people are. And it turns out that there are billions of reasons to celebrate the holidays and greet the New Year with hope. For starters, based on 2010 Statistics Canada data, nearly 24 million Canadians (84 percent of the population) made donations to social service organizations totalling $10.6 billion. At the same time, more than 13.3 million people volunteered nearly 2.1 billion hours; the highest rate was amongst young people which fills me with confidence for the future. On the other side of the border, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) reports that in 2010, 62.8 million adults volunteered almost 8.1 billion hours. And like Canada, the number of younger people volunteering is on the rise, with Generation X (born 1965-1981) devoting more time to service in 2010 than they ever have before—2.3 billion hours.
“Every day, volunteers of all ages are giving their time and talents to solve problems and make our country stronger,” said Robert Velasco II, acting CEO of CNCS. “Whether tutoring at-risk students or providing job training to veterans or responding to natural disasters, ordinary Americans are doing extraordinary things to improve the long-term health and vitality of the nation.”
Discovering this high rate of volunteerism lightens my heart a little. Though I cannot forget the horrors afflicting people, I am more optimistic about the future, with so many volunteering time and money to help others. I’m proud to be part of this community of volunteers, and while I realize I can’t fix the world or help every child, I might be able to help one or two finish school through tutoring, which is better than nothing. I know that two children will sleep in new, warm pajamas this winter because of a donation I made. And far away, in Peru, a single mother will be able to put food on her table and keep her small business growing because I’ve bought a few Fair Trade gifts this year. In fact, the benefits of Fair Trade are so great that I’m going to choose Fair Trade products whenever possible from now on. The only way to abolish slave labor is to stop buying insanely cheap items that were made in places like China and India.
Imagine what would happen if even more people volunteered their time or made donations to worthy causes. Imagine a world where all children are safe, warm, educated and fed, where people are free to practice their religions openly, where people are able to work for fair wages. Just imagine…
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear.
War is over
If you want it
War is over