Put Yourselves in Our Shoes…And Take Off the Christmas Ones, Please

Hi readers,

December is barely here, but Christmas preparations are in full swing. One of the first ways you know this of course, is when Christmas music blasts from radios, iPods, and musical instruments everywhere.

Now, I love Christmas music. I play it in August if the mood strikes. In fact, just to let you guys in on a bit of my personal life, here are my top ten favorites:

  1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (I can’t hear it without thinking about A Christmas Carol)
  2. Carol of the Bells (yeah, some people think it’s creepy but I’m outside the mainstream, in case you didn’t already know that)
  3. Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) (not as well known outside Christian circles but needs more press)
  4. Masters in this Hall (Madrigal; we sang it every year as the opening to my high school chorus’ Madrigal Dinner performances)
  5. The Holly and the Ivy (I want to adopt twin girl kittens and name them after the plants)
  6. O Come, O Come Emmanuel (English or Latin)
  7. Silent Night (English or German, because, of course)
  8. Greensleeves/What Child is This (either lyric set)
  9. ‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime (less well-known carol; written by a 1700s priest to explain the birth of Christ to the Huron tribe)
  10. Sussex Carol (also less well-known, but you might be familiar with the Wexford Carol from the same region)

However, there are some Christmas songs I can’t stand. You might know a few of these–Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, Here Comes Santy Claus (nothing against the jolly old man, but it is Santa; get it right, people), and Blue Christmas (not an Elvis fan, plus it’s depressing). And even as a Christian, I have a really hard time with the Newsong hit The Christmas Shoes.

You’ve probably heard it, or seen the movie based on it (yes, they made a movie out of this thing). It’s essentially about a little boy from a poor family, trying to buy his mama a pair of beautiful Christmas shoes because she’s dying and he wants her to “look beautiful if she meets Jesus tonight.” Except tonight happens to be Christmas Eve, the kid doesn’t have enough money for the shoes, and so a stranger helps him out and learns what Christmas is about.

On the face of it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this song. I’d be the first to hand money to a little kid like the one in the song, pray for his dying mother, and probably bring Christmas treats and a tree to the hospital. The song itself makes me cry. I know it was intentioned as a modern Christmas classic.

But here’s the thing. When I get teary over The Christmas Shoes, I know I’m being manipulated. I know that once again, people with illnesses and their families are being used to yank heartstrings. I mean, think about it. How many holiday movies, TV specials, songs and the like have you seen or heard that feature a tiny cancer patient, a little “crippled” child or creature (media’s word, not mine), or some variant? Bonus points if the kid/creature is also an orphan, if the family is low-income, etc.

Of course, that kind of manipulation makes me think about people with disabilities. Remember how in the last post I said you might live with a disability if your “inspiration porn radar” is set to “high” December 1-25? Yeah, that’s because the media loves to cash in on inspiration–and on you–this time of year.

This is one of those things I don’t bring up because when I do, people assume I’m being an Ebinita Scrooge. They assume I am coldhearted toward real PWDs, people with serious illnesses, or poor people (who, 90% of the time in these Christmas movies, also happen to be ill or have disabilities). Nothing could be further from the truth. But I’m sick of people using PWDs as feel-good tools, especially at Christmas. Apparently it’s not enough to paint them as saintly the rest of the year; at Christmas we have to take the whole thing up to eleven.

At one time, I suppose this kind of entertainment had its place, because people without disabilities didn’t know any better. And I’m not saying such entertainment can’t evoke emotion or have artistic value. What I am saying is, the message of that entertainment robs persons with illnesses and disabilities of the chance to be people, yet again. Yet again, it robs them of the chance to be strong. To accomplish things. To have character traits outside of what is “wrong.” To teach people around them lessons through life instead of death.

Do this with me, all right? Imagine what Christmas entertainment might be like if we treated PWDs and people with illnesses like cancer the same as any other character. Maybe:

-A woman with a disability, who works in a large corporation, gets the idea to make Christmas come alive for jaded people through a new campaign, and catches a hunk’s eye in the process.

-A blind man with a wife and children (because yes, that can happen) is determined to find his kids the perfect toys for Christmas. Yet because of comedic mix-ups, some of which are due to blindness and some of which are not, he buys a bunch of random stuff and has to make it work; his kids learn the age-old lesson that Christmas is about more than presents, but with a new spin.

-A child cancer patient decides to throw a big party for all the kids at the hospital. Even though he or she hasn’t believed in Santa for awhile, it wouldn’t be a Christmas party without St. Nick himself. But the kid’s letter gets lost in the mail, marked “return to sender,” or some such. So what does the kid do? Sneak out of the hospital, hot on the trail of the perfect St. Nick. Sickness does get in the way, but so do other obstacles, like say holiday traffic, the risk of being caught by a grumpy nurse/doctor, etc.

-An adolescent/teen discovers a gift in his or her stocking: the cure for a sibling’s disability or illness. But it can only be used on Christmas Day; if not enacted by midnight, the gift becomes null and void. Mom, Dad, Gram and Gramps, and the aunts and uncles are thrilled. But big brother or sister isn’t so sure the cure is the right thing. He or she spends time trying to figure out, is this what my sibling wants? Could God, angels, Santa (whatever your belief system allows) use it, or would they prefer we take some other route? Where did this gift come from, and did the giver have dishonorable intentions? What, really, is the ultimate right thing?

-An adult with a serious or terminal illness decides to have one last huge blowout Christmas. His or her goal is to tie up all the loose ends and die in peace. He or she is ready–until something unexpected happens. Love arrives, in the form of a PWD, another ill person, a hot medical professional, or a person who is TAB but loves the ill person as is. The ill person is told staying alive is key to saving civilization from some kind of holiday apocalypse. A baby is dropped on the person’s doorstep. You name it.

-A PWD is watching old home movies with his or her family, and remembering how easy it was to be a kid, before he or she realized how life-impacting disability could be. He or she prays or wishes for a second chance at life, maybe even writes a letter to Santa. The letter/wish/prayer  is answered, catapulting the person back to childhood and giving him or her the chance to live life over, making critical decisions that will change the way the person lives now. The catch is, time is sped up and these critical changes must be made by December 25 (end of holiday season, starting December 1). What decisions will this person make? What will he or she sacrifice in the original timeline? Is there a way to “fix” what might go wrong? (This one is straight out of my personal experience–the home movie thing, not the time travel thing).

See what I mean? Any one of these plots, or any y’all could come up with, is probably legions better than the sappy stuff characters with illnesses and disabilities are subjected to this season. So I have a message for the media: yes, I know what you’re trying to do. In the interest of staying on the Nice List, so to speak, I’m trying to understand it. But how about taking a walk in our shoes this season–because the only Christmas shoes we need are the ones that let us live life?

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