A Christmas Present from the Poor
By Oscar García-Johnson
Assistant Professor of Systematic TheologyEveryone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied.
Christmas is one of the most revealing seasons of the year. It brings together messages and messengers, emotions and remembrances, fears and wishes, tasks and anxieties, the poor and the affluent. Interestingly, where
we experience Christmas informs how
we enjoy life and communicate happiness or unhappiness. The American Christmas looks very different from the Salvadorian or the Nigerian Christmas. During this Christmas season, about 1,000 million American families will be expected to spend 2 billion dollars in Christmas-related shopping. Simultaneously, 863 million people in developing countries—where many of the American products are made—will experience Christmas in extreme poverty, lacking such things as drinking water, food, housing, civil rights.
We might be tempted to think that in these economically challenged environments, the spirit of Christmas is overshadowed by a spirit of sadness and pity. We could not be farther from the truth. According to a 2000 “World Values Survey” report from the University of Michigan, the happiest countries in the world are Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador, Puerto Rico. The U.S. appears nowhere near the very top. How could that be? Perhaps Christmas gives us a clue. In developing countries such as El Salvador and Nigeria, the spirit of Christmas is not about affluence, choice, and hot deals, but about the human spirit
—manifested in long family gatherings, table sharing, storytelling, and mutual enjoyment, which is indeed their finest present.
Christmas is, in a way, an appraisal of our cultural happiness or unhappiness. Somehow we have come to believe in America that Christmas is about affluence, choices, Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays. I believe that “the poor and the least” of our world have a message — a Christmas present — for affluent societies: that Christmas is not about a good transaction as a way to convey love, care, time, and human warmth. Christmas in neediness, though despicable and unfair, points to Christmas in Christ—with communion, conversation,
with others—as the proper place to experience authentic freedom and happiness. This is the message of Christmas according to “the poor and the least,” who in Christ become the affluent and the first.
In this Christmas season, let us have the mindset of Jesus and humble ourselves by putting money, deals, and anxieties last—and being in community, welcoming the other, and communicating human warmth to the stranger first.