One week from today is Christmas – a day of great joy and love for Christian religions worldwide.
I was raised a Catholic and as a youngster every year when the calendar marched forward into the colder “brrr” months – SeptemBER, OctoBER, NovemBER and DecemBER – our youthful anticipation grew. Obviously, as a kid, the gift-getting portion of the holiday was the primary reason for the excitement, but all of the other rituals associated with it heightened our senses as we looked toward December 25.
Putting colorful lights on the outside of the house; painting windows with winter scenes; getting a pre-cut pine tree, bringing it home, decorating it with lights, ornaments and tinsel, and placing it in the front picture window for all to see; distributing holiday knick-knacks throughout the house; and hanging red and white stockings above the fireplace. All these activities gave us the overwhelming sense that THIS holiday was clearly the most important day of the year.
Not to mention we got at least a week off from school, Dad didn’t have to work, and it was one of the few times during the year when my parents might invite friends over to the house – forcing us kids upstairs to our bedrooms. Where there was no cable TV!
My personal experience of Christmas was influenced by my lineage. My father’s father’s parents – George and Mary Hook – immigrated to this country from Ukraine in 1897 and 1889 respectively. The rest of my great-grandparents all emigrated around the same time – from Lithuania, England and Poland. Making me, when I was born in 1959, an average third-generation white American. At the time of my birth the U.S. census classified the race of 85.4 percent of the 179 million Americans as white. Only 14.6 percent were non-white and most of those – 10.5 percent -- were black. The neighborhood where I lived was completely white and it seemed everyone celebrated Christmas. The whole Christmas season.
Compare those percentages to the demographics of the last U.S. census in 2010. 63.7 percent white. 16.3 percent Hispanic. 12.6 percent black. 4.9 black Asian. Those are significant percentage changes over a 50-year period.
And those changes have helped us as a society. They are responsible for our greater communal knowledge and recognition of different cultural celebrations taking part around the globe and in our own country at this time of year. Traditions such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Boxing Day and St. Nicholas Day. And although the generally accepted calendar turns to the year 2019 at the end of this month, there are other religions and cultures that have other ideas of what year it is and when it changes.
For Christians, this greater knowledge and recognition of how others celebrate the holiday season may cause an occasional introspective moment. A moment when we think about about how we treat others. It is, after all, the season of peace, love, joy and goodwill towards men.
This introspection may not, however, bode well for those of us who occupy the majority racial profile of “white American.” It may cause an awareness that perhaps we have not always treated our fellow humans with kindness. And do not now.
The most glaring example of that non-goodwill toward our fellow man is our criminal justice system. Compare the 2010 U.S. census demographics for race to the 2010 demographics of the jails and prisons in our country: 39 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, and 40 percent black. Somehow the majority race of white American comprises almost 64 percent of the U.S. population but only 39 percent of those incarcerated. Yet those black Americans who make up a mere 13 percent of the U.S. population comprise 40 percent of the incarcerated population.
In the spirit of the holidays – with peace, love, joy and goodwill in my heart – I’ve reflected on these numbers. I’ve used the greater knowledge and recognition I’ve gained by being exposed to other cultures and religions and tried to explain these huge disparities. And as we approach the highest of Christian holidays, a day celebrated for the birth of a very special baby, the introspection leads me only to sadness.
Because the only answer for that disparity is we are not, in any way, shape or form, showing peace, love, joy and goodwill to certain segments of our country’s population.
Then how do we stop?
I suggest we use the example that Christmas puts forth. Christmas is a celebration of new life through the birth of a baby. It rejoices in the glory of our children. Jacqueline Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."
This means you could find a cure for cancer, invent a flying car, save a threatened species, stop a war, or accomplish any one of a million other wonderful, amazing things, and it doesn’t matter much. Because chances are very good that if you didn’t do them, someone else right behind you would. But only one person can raise your children well: you.
Let’s all just focus on not bungling the raising of our children. Let’s do everything in our power to not botch this great opportunity that has been bestowed upon us. Let’s treat our kids as if they were the most important people in the universe – someone that kings would travel great distances just to see – and people who in turn will grow up to show peace, love, joy and goodwill to all other people.
If we could do those things, maybe, just maybe, the bar begins to move upward. Maybe we do start to truly show peace, love, joy and goodwill to our fellow man. Maybe the spirit of Christmas starts sticking around all year long.
Now that would be a Christmas miracle.