A little over a year ago, a 26 year old street seller in Tunisia set himself on fire. The breadwinner for a family of six siblings, Mohammed Bouazizi worked so his sisters could go to university. Harassed daily by police and the municipality, on December 17th he had reached his limit. With his produce and scales confiscated yet again, he stood outside the governor’s office shouting, “how do you expect me to make a living?” Then he doused himself with gasoline and lit a match.
The fire spread around the world, beginning with the fleeing of the Tunisian president, to the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square, the resignation of the Yemeni prime minister, on to the Occupy Wall Street in the US and the thousands of other occupy movements worldwide, including Montreal.
But now it is Christmas. With only a few exceptions, tents across Canada have been cleared out of city parks and squares. The global movement that once looked like a political tsunami has leveled out. For many, it is back to business. Or, more precisely, back to shopping.
I am always torn at Christmas, now more than ever. The nostalgic pull of lights, carols and stuffed turkey can barely hold their own against harsher economic, social and political realities. Maybe the multiple train wrecks in slow motion – the climate, the economy, our democratic rights – are trying to tell us something. You think? Are we listening? Or are we too busy maxing out our credit cards at Walmart or Future Shop. Because really, what’s global collapse when you got a Sony Bravia to watch it on?
Christmas occupies us. We are pre-occupied by it, our attention hijacked by the bright shiny baubles and the tinkling music. For many, our childhood enchantment with Santa Claus will remain the greatest spiritual connection of our lives. As adults, the last minute visits to the shopping mall will be the closest we’ll come to a pilgrimage. But like a huge cardboard box that holds a tiny present, the Christmas joke is on us.
The thing about the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements were their attempts to bring us back to basics. To remind us that life is better if we cooperate, share wealth, challenge hierarchies. To encourage us to trust in the integrity of our own histories and futures of our own making. To wipe away the obfuscating barriers of middle men, dictators, and the false gods of rampant consumerism.
What is Christmas, then? How can we occupy it? Over the next two weeks, Rover writers will be taking a moment to reflect on Christmas and the concept of “occupy.” For Martyn Bryant, that means taking a closer look at the many myths with which it shares its history. For Gina Roitman, Eric Hamovitch and Sujata Dey, the central narrative is one of being an outsider. For Catherine Averback, it is a return to family. For Ehab Lotayef and Mark Paterson, angry poems and poignant stories must be told. And read on, there are more.
For me, Christmas is an opportunity for change and rebirth. A gift is not something we tick off a list, but that which we give of ourselves. A little boy drumming. An offer of help. Forgiveness. And it’s a reminder of the sacrifices we are sometimes called upon to make in order to realize a greater potential. Because sometimes the simple flick of a match or a single star in the sky really can change the world. If you let it, that is.
Leila Marshy is the literary editor of The Rover.