Patrick Walsh

While Christmas shopping, I overhead writer Adam Gopnik on a radio show philosophizing on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Gopnik was discussing the book’s Cratchit family, which received a surprise turkey from Ebenezer Scrooge for its Christmas dinner.

As the manager of Martha’s Choice Marketplace, an archdiocesan food pantry, I’m focused on giving away turkeys throughout the holiday season. It’s all I think about between October and December. We distributed over 450 turkeys and dinner fixings this year, with the help of hundreds of our neighbors.

During his radio interview, Gopnik shared that Dickens rocked some of the thinkers of his Victorian world when Scrooge bought his clerk, Bob Cratchit, a turkey for Christmas. Gopnik’s discussion on the social ramifications of Scrooge’s spontaneous gift piqued my own thoughts on my journey in turkey-giving.

Some Victorian thinkers disagreed with disrupting the free market by buying a turkey for a person who couldn’t afford it. Others thought doing small charitable acts would circumvent the needed reform policies to address the injustice of poverty. People on both sides of the issue deplored the dependence such charity stood to create. There is nothing much new under the sun!

All I can say is that it is always good to buy a neighbor a turkey. It’s even better to follow the example of Scrooge and deliver it yourself. Encountering a Cratchit family would immediately fill the giver with joy, humility and a better understanding of the Cratchits.

It’s impossible to partake in a turkey giveaway without being impacted by the evil of hunger and poverty. It is an evil we cannot face isolated within one or another of our ideological enclaves.  Scrooge’s turkey symbolized a common disagreement of the political landscape in Dickens’ time. Today, our turkeys can symbolize a common goodness, a common light.

Turkeys are a step in the direction of love.  They’re a symbol of that sacred joy that wells up in all of us, and drives us towards each other. It is a joy to be cultivated and nourished with the exchange of smiles and jokes with people we don’t know or understand. But turkeys are a first step.

The next step is toward one another, towards listening, towards the vulnerability of being out of place. Such a new context can turn us to reconsider our role in loving our neighbor and “keeping Christmas all year.”

Of course, there must be discussions of funding equitable assistance programs, rebuilding localized agrarian food systems and paying people enough to feed and house their children. But I like that Scrooge’s first step upon enlightenment was doing right by his clerk. Christmas can remind revolutionaries and traditionalists alike that any brand of reform is nothing if it doesn’t live in our souls. It reminds us that Christ turns us all to himself, through dying to ourselves and loving others.

Giving turkeys, as Dickens’ cynical contemporaries chided, “softens and butters us up.” That’s great! And that is precisely what we need if we will ever achieve more loving cities. We don’t need less romanticism, we need more, and we need it all year round. It can draw us to God in the building of a better neighborhoods in this life. If it is real, it will draw us to the more challenging things. It will call out of us a strong sacrificial love that is anything but buttery.

(Related: Pope prays Christmas softens hardened hearts to bring peace, justice.)

Christmas has a unique ability to soften us. I pray we keep the spirit of Christmas in our heart all year round.  But to do that, we really need to feast with our neighbors, as Scrooge did. There is a well of joy and potential that sits untapped in so many of our neighborhoods. Inside the hearts of the rich, the poor and the middle class lies the key to the world that God wants for us. I think we can all agree it is not the one we’ve built for ourselves.

Let us allow Christmas to melt our hearts to our brothers and sisters everywhere. It is only with those soft hearts that we can hear God show us the way to himself.

***

Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at pwalsh@chs-adphila.org. More information about Martha’s Choice, a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal, can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.