The Ghost of Christmas Past
Written by Eugene Stickland - December 7, 2020
As our pandemic-weary world lurches towards Christmastime, I hear again and again people saying things like, "Man, I really need Christmas this year, more than ever," or even "Thank God it's Christmastime, I really need a break from the madness!"
Quite right. We all need a break. We all need something good to happen, more than ever. Something special. In the words of Leonard Cohen, "Everybody wants a box of chocolates and a long-stemmed rose," and given that we live in a prosperous city, most people will get what they are hoping for, and more.
But not everyone. Most of the girls of the Stardale program won't get what they were hoping for. A lot of them won't even have a tree in their house, or if they do have one, there will be precious little under it. Why would Christmas be different from any other time of year? Sad to think that there may come a day when they just give up hoping entirely.
Of course, there are the "haves" and the "have-nots." It seems that mainstream society in Canada has learned to live with the fact that in our cities such as Calgary, our Indigenous people will fall into the "have-nots" category - and can live with the fact that even at Christmas, nothing really will change.
When I was young, growing up in Regina, a First Nations family moved onto our street. It was a tough situation. They had a lot of parties, the police were called a lot in those early days, and there was a lot of tension that still exists there today.
One day, I came home from school and found my mom at the kitchen table wrapping some Christmas presents. She didn't try to hide them from me, so I assumed they weren't for me. I asked her who they were for.
"Oh," she said casually, "the people down the street."
"What people down the street?" I asked.
"The Native people," she said.
I could not comprehend why she would do that. She could tell.
My mom said: "You see our beautiful tree there? And all those presents under it, most of them with your name on them? Did you ever stop to think that they don't have any of that in their house?"
What could I say? I obviously hadn't. But I did argue against it by saying, "But mom, it's the party house? Why should we help them?"
My mom had been a school teacher, and was a very patient woman. She said something I have never forgotten. She said, "They came here with nothing. No one ever bothered to show them our customs and traditions, or how we live. So if we don't do it, who will?"
Another time, I caught her going into their house with a pumpkin and a couple of bags of candy at Halloween. That day she taught them how to carve a jack o' lantern. Most people on our block would never have gone into their house. She was quite a lady, my mom Stella. We weren't a wealthy family, but she taught me we can always find it in our hearts to share what we have with others.
I think of her as the Ghost of Christmas Past. I try to live up to her lofty but simple ideals of sharing and welcoming others who are different from us, knowing that deep down inside, we are really all the same.
Back to present day Calgary, Helen and her staff and volunteers are trying to mitigate against this very sad situation that our First Nations girls find themselves in. The good women of Stardale are willing and able to deliver the kinds of things to these girls this year that most of us take for granted: some special things to eat, some brightly wrapped gifts - you know, all those things that taken together create the magic of Christmas. A respite from the grind of these pandemic times.
It's been a tough year for organizations like Stardale. Funds for operations are increasingly scarce and yet I have learned over the years that Helen will carry on, come hell or high water. She is determined to do what she can to give these girls some kind of Christmas, but it won't happen without donations from the people like you who believe in and who support this program.
If we don't do it, who will?
If my mom were still here, I know she would help.