Christmas Giving

by Harry on December 24, 2003

If you don’t like being guilt-tripped skip this. The rest of you get your credit cards out. Here’s the deal. Figure out how much you are spending on Christmas/Holiday cheer. Figure out how much has been spent on you. Add the two figures together. Halve that figure and plug it in to the OxfamAmerica form or the Oxfam UK form (depending where you pay taxes — for other countries you can reach your own country by negotiating from the OxfamAmerica home page). (Note: if, like me, no-one spends anything on you at Christmas the decent thing to do is to skip the adding and halving stages.) If you are a utilitarian this is the best thing you can do, if you are a Kantian it is also the best thing as long as you don’t enjoy it (that’s a joke — I know Kantianism isn’t really like that).

Next year I’ll do this early in December so you can avoid giving presents to people you don’t like and, instead, send them an email saying you’ve donated X amount to Oxfam in their name.

Donations from non-celebrators of Christmas are also, I believe, welcome.

Christmas in Oz

by Kieran Healy on December 24, 2003

I’m having my least Christmas-like Christmas ever, mostly because I’m living in Canberra. I understand that it’s unreasonable to expect Christmas to proceed as normal amidst the gum trees and sunshine, and of course there’s a lot to be said for adapting traditions to fit the circumstances. At the same time, I can see why the first transplants from Europe held so grimly to traditions that were absurdly out of whack with their situation. I have a strong urge to light a candle and put it in the window, except Monday was the longest day of the year, so what’s the point?

For someone brought up on a Northern-hemisphere Christmas, the uneasy Australian detente between the season and the Season (so to speak) is deeply unsatisfying. Even our two years in the high desert of southern Arizona were more genuinely festive — though warm it was still winter, and local adaptations like Chili Wreaths were much more creative than anything I’ve seen here. Australia might be better off if it just ditched the holiday altogether, perhaps replacing it with a full-on festival of the Summer Solstice. There must be something better than having the fake snow-covered pine trees, overheated Santas and In-the-bleak-Midwinters hanging on for dear life in the blazing sun.

A thought for Christmas Eve

by Kieran Healy on December 24, 2003

Courtesy of Alexander McCall Smith’s At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, which unaccountably is not published in the United States:

The Master then rose to give a short address.

‘Dear guests of the College,’ he began, ‘dear Fellows, dear undergraduate members of this Foundation: William de Courcey was cruelly beheaded by those who could not understand that it is quite permissible for rational men to differ on important points of belief or doctrine. The world in which he lived had yet to develop those qualities of tolerance of difference of opinion which we take for granted, but which we must remind ourselves is of rather recent creation and is by no means assured of universal support. There are amongst us still those who would deny to others the right to hold a different understanding of the fundamental issues of our time. Thus, if we look about us we see people of one culture or belief still at odds with their human neighbours who are of a different culture or belief; and we see many who are prepared to act upon this difference to the extent of denying the humanity of those with whom they differ. …

‘Here in this place of learning, let us remind ourselves of the possibility of combating, in whatever small way we can, those divisions that come between man and man, between woman and woman, so that we may recognise in each other that vulnerable humanity that informs our lives, and makes life so precious; so that each may find happiness in his or her life, and in the lives of others. For what else is there for us to hope for? What else, I ask you, what else?’

As good a standard to hew to as any, it seems to me, despite the awful complexity of the world.

Random Web Wow

by Eszter Hargittai on December 24, 2003

I was in Israel this past weekend and was trying to describe to my cousin the size of Lake Michigan. (This was in the context of telling him about my new surroundings in Chicagoland.) I realized I don’t know the actual size of the lake so I thought we’d go online and check. I did a search on Google for “lake michigan” map size. No more, no less. The top result was a map of Israel and Lake Michigan superimposed on each other. Thanks, Web. This was certainly an effective way of explaining to an Israeli the size of Lake Michigan.:) (I realize the question of a map of Israel can be a tricky issue. I am not posting this to start an argument about that. I thought from a Web-search point-of-view, this was an interesting/amusing case worth sharing.)