Tag Archives: Christmas

A Christmas gift

23 Dec

In all the last minute rush to buy presents, it can be difficult to find time or space to think about those around the world living today/Christmas Eve/Christmas Day/Boxing Day in a poverty from which they cannot escape. Those with no presents/turkey/family/home. For whom Christmas Day is just another day, with no break in the monotony of poverty and injustice.

So, rather than feeling guilty, why don’t we do something to help them?

At the moment, I am chatting with a few friends about setting up an initiative in memory of my friend JJ, a long-term street kid who recently died from AIDS-related TB. I do not want JJ to be forgotten. I do not want other street kids to be ignored, forgotten or silenced any more. So we have been talking about what we could do to break the cycle of street life and street death.

JJ had a daughter, a little girl born just weeks before his death. I want to make sure that she does not end up on the streets, like her Dad and her grandmother. So one little thing we are going to do is set up a trust fund for her – to ensure she can go to school and be given the best possible chance in life.

If you would like to, you could make a donation to help us get the trust fund up and running this Christmas. Just £5 would make a real difference, £5o would make a massive difference.

If you would like to know more and/or make a donation, please email me on beccamcgowanuk@gmail.com or contact me on Facebook/Twitter. I’d love to hear from you. Let’s do something – just a little thing – to challenge injustice over Christmas 2011.

Happy Christmas!

JJ’s old bedroom


True Austerity v. Fake Austerity this Christmas

15 Dec

Have you noticed how everyone is talking about “austerity” this festive season? Celebrities on Twitter, on TV, journalists in the papers are talking about their “back to basics” Christmas plans – which a cynic may say is more about nostalgia and guilt than genuine need. When multimillionaire celebrities talk about “cutting back”, I find myself feeling less generous than I should be at this time of year.

You see, I have known, and still know, people for whom austerity is not a lifestyle choice, but an absolute non-negotiable necessity. It is not “choosing brown paper with red ribbons” or “Tesco mince pies rather than Waitrose brandy butter”. It is not a choice but rather a means of survival.

Let me illustrate – one of my dear friends in South Africa recalled to me the Christmases of her childhood. We were in our early twenties at the time and I was just starting to realize how privileged I really was. She grew up in a loving yet poor family in a township, her family was close-knit but had little money. At Christmas there were no individual presents, not even as a young child. Instead, every year as Christmas approached, her Dad was given a packet of biscuits at work and this was the family’s (joint) Christmas present – a packet of biscuits shared amongst them. When she told me this, I struggled to hold back the tears. I had never before had to imagine a Christmas without all the trimmings – turkey, presents, crackers, cheese, stockings and so on. None of that –just a shared packet of biscuits. That is true austerity.

Poverty is not a glamorous thing. Sometimes I think we can be guilty of romanticising it. Poverty – not having enough to pay the bills, to buy enough food, to buy your child even one Christmas present – is ugly, separating the haves from the have-nots, marginalising people and creating feelings of inadequacy and “difference”. True austerity is a non-negotiable side effect of poverty, not a glamorous lifestyle choice.

Someone else was recently telling me how their parents could never afford to buy them what they asked for at Christmas – instead they always got the fake version of the real thing. Okay, it’s not the same as a packet of biscuits but it can still generate feelings of being second best, different from all your friends at school.

Fake austerity makes me angry.  don’t like seeing the wealthy pretend to identify with the poor, when many have no idea what it really means to not have enough, to lie awake at night worrying about money – week in, week out, year in, year out. When there isn’t enough money to pay the bills, buy your child a new, much-needed coat or heat your home at all, the last thing you want to hear is that the mega-rich are now “austere” too. I am all for cutting back, spending less so that you can give more away, and reaching out to those in true need this Christmas.

But, if we are fortunate enough to be able to live without worrying about money, let’s also be truly grateful for that at this time of year. After all, it is about a baby born to parents too poor to find an inn, who put their newborn in the trough usually inhabited by animal food. It is about a God who became poor, not a God who glamorises poverty.

Perspective, part II

9 Dec

As we get that festive feeling – only 16 sleeps til Christmas – maybe it’s good to put it all in perspective. This is what I found out today.

This Christmas…

…1 billion people (yes, you read that right) do not have access to safe, clean drinking water

…34 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, 2.7 million of these were infected last year

…15 million children have been orphaned by AIDS-related diseases so far

…162 million people are trying to survive on less than $0.50 a day

…11 million children are estimated to live on the streets in India

…34,ooo children and 16,000 adults die every day of hunger or PREVENTABLE diseases

…the top 1% earners in Britain now earn 14.3% of national income, compared to 7.3% in 1970

…half the world’s children will go to bed hungry tonight

So, in light of these damning statistics, I support those who are trying to help us wake up to these realities. For too long in the West, we have been able to press the snooze button and carry on consuming – shopping more, eating more, caring (it would seem) less. As I wrote yesterday, times may well be a-changing. But I hope that meeting our own needs will not prevent us reaching out to others – a report out this week highlighted that we seem to be becoming more selfish and less altruistic as the purse strings tighten. Compassion is seemingly on the decline.

I also read today that it would cost an estimated $7-10 billion to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 2005, Britons spent $6 billion on alcohol and $3.2 billion on ice-cream. I hope that, this Christmas, our hunger and thirst spread outwards from ourselves so that we choose to invest in ending the spread of HIV/AIDS rather than another bottle of wine.

Failure to truly celebrate

8 Dec

There is a lot of talk around at the moment about “cutting back this Christmas”. The current economic climate – where few are immune from feeling the pinch – seems to be provoking conversations about “a simpler Christmas”. It is though we are perhaps collectively remembering the days of old – the days before Recent Christmas. In Recent Christmas, parents became obsessed with buying their child the latest MUST HAVE toy, parents went into debt to ensure their offspring got the presents they really wanted, and all of us became tired and frazzled, rushing from shop to shop to buy all the things that were meant to make us happy. In Recent Christmas, we all had to have the Perfect Day – perfect meal, perfect presents, perfect experience. I admit, I got caught up in Recent Christmas and the quest for perfection. Last year, my husband and I hosted Christmas at ours with my family. We got carried away in Sainsbury’s, buying enough food to feed an army (instead of six adults and a toddler) and enough alcohol to keep an army happy. Presents were a bit more restrained as we all agreed a £10 budget beforehand – although my husband still bought me a ridiculously generous, jaw-stopping gift. We managed to spend a lot of money all round. And it was fun. Although my husband commented the other day that he doesn’t really remember a lot about it.

We are obviously not the only ones doing things differently this year. We find ourselves in a very different position than we were twelve months ago. He is studying and I am trying to make it a freelancer. There simply isn’t much money to go round. Not much at all. Thankfully we have decided we want to try a new way – Present Christmas (but with many less presents). We have decided to be as present as possible throughout the festive season, not spending the pre-Christmas time available rushing around buying gifts,. We are hoping to BE present, rather than just give presents. So we are making a list of the fun (free) things we can do in London – seeing the lights, going for long wintry walks, making homemade soup and mulled wine, listening to our favourite festive CD (Bob Dylan Does Christmas – so worth a listen!), looking at the Christmas display windows in the big shops (but not going in), inviting friends round for mulled wine and mince pies (if they are on offer in Sainsbury’s!). We have decided to create good memories that we hope to treasure for years to come. Rather than thinking that new jumpers/socks/CDs will make us happy, we are trying to cherish each other and those we love – for who they are, not what they might give us.

What does Christmas look like for you this year? Why don’t you join us as we attempt to truly celebrate Present Christmas (with far fewer presents)?

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