Remember the Santa cabin built over the main stairwell in the former Hougen’s department store in downtown Whitehorse? It faced the white, galloping mechanical horse and the entrance of the second-floor restaurant. A simple wooden structure, batts of cotton, spruce trees, other seasonal decorations and, of course, Santa’s big chair transformed the space into a children’s wonderland. The short parade up from the White Pass station and Santa’s arrival through a happy throng of kids for a four-weekend stint at the cabin would officially launch the coming holiday season for Whitehorse.
During my tenure in the magical seat, children’s visits always mixed the expected and the surprising. On the surprising side, I recall one young lady probably around six years of age who gave me a small polished stone as a gift. After admiring it together, I told her that I would take it to my North Pole workshop and show it to all the elves. Knowing her parents, I was later able to pen a short note of thanks telling her of the stone’s journey and tuck the folded note along with the shining pebble into a small envelope destined for her stocking on Christmas morning.
Hopes and expectations crowded in around the cabin along with the children. Often a bright-faced child would hand me a letter. Usually these held a carefully scrawled wish list or possibly a collection of small pictures cut and pasted from a catalogue to aid my memory when filling the imagined red gift bags back at the workshop. On rare occasions they contained a wish or a longing for something less tangible but more significant, like peace or the return of a loved one. What do we have on our wish lists this year?
At this time in my life the idea of surrounding myself with just more things offers less and less possibility of any real satisfaction. Those intangibles on the children’s wish lists become more central to me. I certainly can easily say what I don’t want. In a broken and battered world where desperately needed resources for basic social needs like health care, housing or clean water are purloined annually by rapacious global militaries or profit-at-any-cost corporadoes, we need to refocus.
The roots of conflict, local or global, most often lie in inequality. The growing gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots, aggravated by our current profit-centered market system tear at us and the environment wherever we are. Building a peace-filled, sustainable world demands addressing the basic question of how to put all people and their needs at the centre of our political and economic equations.
At a national level we have decisions to make, like do we really in Canada need new, multi-billion-dollar stealth fighters or will the significantly cheaper next generation of unmanned long-range, long-endurance aircraft cover our surveillance and search-and-rescue requirements just fine? Locally, can we gift donations to Habitat for Humanity Yukon or Fish 4 Kenya to friends rather than just passing on more stuff? Will volunteering our time at the Whitehorse Food Bank or just being present to others provide a true present of real value to someone’s life? How can we change our personal dreams from an orientation towards material success and a quantity of things to a quality of life and empathy towards the crying needs of others near and far?
I know what is on my wish list.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact email@example.com.