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Wishing you a just and humane Christmas

Peter Quaranto | Tuesday, December 9, 2003

I was planning on starting this column off in typical fashion, by condemning all of humanity to hell or appealing for some sort of political revolution, but my roommate Mark would have none of it. Thus, inspired by his ever-present witness in the desk behind me here in good, old 203 Sorin Hall, I am going to write this, my final column of my first semester as an Observer columnist, about the most mainstream thing on America’s plate these days: Christmas. Just don’t count on me being too conventional.When I begin to reflect upon the holiday that more Americans enjoy than any other, I find myself torn. Of course I want to condemn the rampant materialism, consumerism and commercialism that plague modern Christmas, but I have to admit that I, too, love running down the stairs in the Quaranto house on Christmas morning, pushing my brother and sister to the side that I might get the first look at the presents under the tree. This leaves me with one grand question: Can we have a modern Christmas with materialism and still pursue a just, humane and meaningful celebration of the birth of Christ, who is the light and redemption of the world for all who call themselves Christian?For the sake of argument and because I will never give up my He-Man action figures, I am going to wager a yes.Of course, this does not mean that I am sanctioning or recommending the sort of materialistic approach to Christmas that so often pervades Macy’s, Michigan Avenue in Chicago and even our own God-given Notre Dame Bookstore. At what point does Christmas become more about buying gifts and spending money than showing love and celebrating hope? How much can one justify buying in a world where more than 3 billion people live with under $2 per day? These are all questions that each individual must evaluate.The question that I want to tackle is this: How can we act, in simple and real ways, to make this Christmas season a more just and humane time?I want to suggest four ways that we can do so. These simple acts take little time, little money and little effort, but they can make a huge difference.First, one way to promote justice this Christmas is to be conscious of the places and companies from which we buy our gifts. We all have significant power as consumers to support companies that promote just practices versus those that are guilty of such crimes as treating women unfairly, using sweatshop labor and polluting the environment. A good place to start for such empowered and focused consumerism is www.idealswork.com.A second way to promote a just and humane world this Christmas is to make donations to charities as part of or in place of giving gifts to another person. A good friend of mine of the more radical nature is asking for his parents to donate money to OxFam International, an organization that focuses on development in the third world, rather than give gifts, but not everyone needs to go that far.There are so many charities and organizations, though, which are in dire need for funds and could use as much help as they can get. A couple good ones, for a start, are Maryknoll, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities.Third, one can give the gift of commitment. The holiday season is a perfect time to make a commitment to volunteer in a local soup kitchen, become more politically engaged or do some other small act for the common good. Imagine if everyone committed to spending the same amount of time that they went shopping to doing some sort of community service.Fourth and finally, we can give the gift of time. By this, I mean we should make it a point to spend more time with those around us, especially family and friends. Amidst our hectic, work-driven existences, it is important to make time to sit down, drink coffee and develop fellowship. Christmas, in its purest sense, is about love, which finds its home most clearly in community (and coffee).Very often, our actions at Christmas, aimed at showing our love for someone close to us, cause the suffering of many people that we will never know. It does not have to be this way. In the end, rather than playing to a zero-sum game as we so easily can do, we are able to play to a positive-sum game, where everyone wins and justice rolls forth.If and when we do these four things, the world will become more just and humane. Through these practices, we will also be making our own holiday celebrations more fulfilling and meaningful.Though it is unlikely that this piece of Christmas literature will find its way into the box of such classics as “A Christmas Carol” or “The Charlie Brown Christmas” special, at least I appeased my roommate, made an argument for justice, did not offend too many people and did not call for revolution.As for talking about revolution, there’s always next semester.

Peter Quaranto is a sophomore political science and international peace studies major. He would like to thank Jamie and Michael for their friendship, wisdom and Tuesday lunches. Merry Christmas to all and, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “Don’t waste your time waiting.” Contact Peter at pquarant@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.