Friday, December 23, 2011

All I want for Christmas

``If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”  – “A Christmas Carol”

Dear Santa,

I’m sorry I haven’t written in a very long time. First, I want to thank you for George – that’s what I named the little mechanical dachshund you brought me in 1972, when we lived in that pretty house on South Joslin Court in Denver. We even had a fireplace for you! Remember?

You brought me some really nice gifts over the years, but I especially cherished George because I couldn’t have a real dog. I never got to show you my appreciation because right after that, my cousin Freddie told me there was no Santa Claus. So I never wrote you again.

Of course, I’ve since found out that Freddie was mistaken. “Santa Claus” is just a moniker; you’re really Saint Nikolaos of Myra, and you were born in what is now Turkey in 270 AD. You’re probably the world’s most famous Orthodox Christian  that nobody knows is Orthodox. (You’re in good company, with Telly Savalas, George Stephanopoulos, Nadia Comaneci and Nikola Tesla. But I digress.)

Anyway, “Santa,” they made you a saint because of the wonderful things you did for the poor – like secretly putting gold coins in children’s shoes as the family slept. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been poor back in the third century. 

I suppose that if you weren’t lucky enough to be the king, you were most likely destitute. There was no Social Security, no food stamps, no Medicaid. The children worked hard along with their parents, not for spending money but for sustenance. I bet that your gold coins prevented more than one family from starving.

So you’ve been traveling around the world ever since then, giving gifts to good children (and to bad ones as well!). And you’ve witnessed a lot of progress in the last 1,700 years. With electricity and plumbing and automobiles, most people are a lot more comfortable now than they were when you first started out.

But we still have poor people. And that’s why I’m writing you this letter, after all these years. I’m really lucky – there’s nothing that I need. I have enough clothes and food, and I have a house to live in. So you don’t have to bring me anything. But I’m worried about the people around me.

I don’t know if you read the newspaper or watch the news – I’m not sure how the reception is at the North Pole. But lately, all over the world, complicated political and economic systems are breaking down. People who used to have clothes and food and houses are losing them. People who worked hard all their lives are worried about their futures. People are protesting, and some people are getting hurt.

There was no “middle class” in third-century Turkey, but nowadays the middle class is a big deal. Middle class people aren’t rich, but they have everything they need – and a few things they want. Well, the middle class is disappearing. Here in the United States, the most recent census showed that half of us are “poor or low-income.” 

There’s a big problem, though – a lot of the poor, at least here in America, don’t “seem” poor. The Heritage Foundation says that the poor aren’t REALLY poor, because most of them have TVs and coffee makers. (I was at Goodwill last week and saw a TV for $10 and a coffee maker for $5 … just sayin’). The folks at Freedom Works think that unemployment insurance – which pays a fraction of what workers’ salaries used to be – keeps people from looking for work. The New York Times reported that the average job-seeker today searches nine months before finding work … which seems like a long time for a family to live on (at most) $1,320 a month, when the average mortgage payment is $1,295. Throw in health insurance, a car payment, and stuff like electricity and food, and … well, you can do the math.

This letter is getting really long, and I know you only have another couple of days to prepare for your big flight on Christmas Eve. But I just wanted to make sure you knew this. The people struggling these days don’t live like people did in your day, but if they can’t pay for medical treatment, or the bank is taking their house away, or their local food pantry has run out of supplies, they’re poor. Don’t you think…?

And come to think of it, with some people in the U.S. wanting to get rid of Social Security, food stamps and Medicaid, as well as child labor regulations … well, we might wind up a lot like third century Turkey anyway.

Merry Christmas!

Love, Teresa

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