Posts tagged christmas

Shelter

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It was just barely a year ago that Kelly and I moved out of our apartment in Salt Lake.¬†We were using a POD to move so that we wouldn’t have to drive a U-Haul truck across the Cascade mountains in the middle of the winter (which ended up being a great choice: it was hard enough getting the little Honda over those mountains while they were covered in thick snow). We’d already fixed the schedule for the POD, so we had to scramble (and go without sleep) to get everything packed in time, but we made it (barely).

We spent our last night in our basement-sweet-basement the same way that we would spend our first nights in our apartment here in Seattle: on a blow up mattress in an otherwise empty apartment.

The next day we cleaned the apartment and packed up the car to go. We had some things that we weren’t taking with us, either extra boxes that we needed to recycle or things that we needed to donate. We had other errands to run before we drove out of town (both moving and Christmas preparations) so we split up to get it all done.

Among the things that we were donating was a pair of pillows. I don’t know if we thought that the DI wouldn’t take them or if we had some other reasons, but for some reason we thought that it would be better to give the pillows to the homeless instead. That was on my errand route, along with the recycling (which I would have been just as happy to throw away, but you know Kelly). So I hunted around for a recycle bin big enough to hold cardboard boxes, and then headed over to the homeless shelter. (I had contemplated offering the boxes to the homeless, too, but it just seemed a little too much like rubbing it in, so I stuck with the pillows.)

It was late by the time I got to the shelter, and the street was empty (unlike other times when I’d been running past there and the street was full of homeless people). At first I was a little confused about which building it was; for some reason I’d always thought that it was on the opposite side of the road. It didn’t help that the sign said something generic, like “community center”. There was another sign on the building, though, saying that I could drive around back with the donations, honk, and someone would come out to get them. But there were hours for the donation drop-off, and I was there too late. I felt stupid, and I almost turned around and drove away.

(Have you ever sat outside of a business and been indecisive about whether you should go inside or not? Maybe you’re thinking of getting some gift and you’re not sure if it’s right, or maybe you’re at some office building without an appointment and you’re afraid of being laughed to scorn for just walking in uninvited. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s a familiar feeling.)

As I was sitting there getting in and out of my car, a homeless man walked by. He had been looking in a garbage can down the street and was now moving on to another one. As he walked past, he asked me if I knew what time it was. I told him, and he walked on. There wasn’t anything more to the exchange than that, but for some reason that did it for me.

I walked up to the main doors with my pillows, still feeling stupid, convinced that they’d just tell me that I should have read the sign outside and known to come during donation hours. The doors were locked, but the lady at the front desk saw me and buzzed me in.

Inside the air smelled like urine. It wasn’t the sadly subtle kind of smell that a nursing home has. It reeked of it. It was almost over-powering.

“Front desk” might be the wrong word for where the lady that had let me in was sitting. It was just a folding table (like from a cultural hall event) with a clipboard where she had been letting people sign in. She asked what I was there for, and I sheepishly told her I had these pillows and thought someone might like them. She didn’t seem phased at all, and just sent me down the hall to (what I think was) the nurses’ station to give them the pillows.

When I got to the end of the hallway I saw the scene that makes me still think of this event. There were probably 40 people there, lying on the floor, fully clothed and covered in blankets. I don’t know what the rooms looked like, but I assume they were full if all of these people were out here on the hallway floor.

I gave the man at the nurses’ station the pillows. He offered a receipt for tax purposes, which obviously I didn’t need for my measly donation. And that was it. No further exchange. I left and drove away.

It was such a small moment in my life. The whole thing probably only lasted 10 minutes. It’s funny how sometimes small moments have big memories.

Constantine Undone

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So, I might have this part of the Christmas history wrong, but this is the version I heard:

The early Christians celebrated Jesus’s birth on January 6th. I don’t know how it ended up on that day, so that can be for a different story. In this story Constantine was Rome’s emperor and got converted to Christianity and decided that everyone else should do the same. So he took a popular “pagan” holiday for the winter solstice that was held on the 25th of December and combined it with the Christian holiday to make a big 12-day-long holiday for Christmas, hoping that everyone would start celebrating the Christian holiday instead.

I don’t really know how successful Constantine was, because he definitely got us to celebrate Christmas, but I’m not sure if it’s still a Christian holiday. How much of our Christmas tradition has anything to do with Christ? I think we’ve just created our own “pagan” holiday with its own associated religion, complete with Santa Claus as its principle god.

You might think that even as heavy of an emphasis as we put on Santa doesn’t constitute deity or religion, but consider the ideas surrounding Santa. He sees the actions of every person on Earth. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. He rewards good behavior. He knows the desires of your heart, even the unspoken ones, and has the power to fulfill those desires with little “Christmas miracles”. He not only has power to grant wishes, but also to fly, to visit the whole world in one night, and to slide down any size of chimney. He basically controls time and space. We have turned Santa Claus into a benevolent, all-knowing and all-powerful god.

Of course it’s not just Santa in the pantheon of our Christmas paganism. We’ve got other minor deities like Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and even Baby Jesus. (Not grown-up Jesus, though. Christmas isn’t about him.) Of course you have to be careful about how much you talk about Baby Jesus during Christmas. You don’t want to offend anyone. It’s safer to stick to Santa.

Of course it’s no big secret that Christmas has been commercialized and that people get too caught up in the greed of the season. I do appreciate when people try to remind us of “the real meaning of Christmas”, but even these reminders seem to focus on good messages that can be appreciated without regards to any particular religion. Lots of talk of “peace” and “good will” while carefully not quoting the source.

I’m really just making an observation. Despite the effort to bring Christianity to the masses by creating Christmas, it still isn’t a Christian holiday.

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