One can be smug about how well we look after our poor and the aged. Of course we could do better and I'm sure someone will point out our current shortcomings, but I know many individuals will be "doing their extra bit" for those who are less well-off this yuletide.
Actually I'm feeling a little bit persecuted by our arrangements for Christmas Day. My former wife and my current one (there will be no more!) have colluded and arranged for us to join together for our Christmas Day meal at our place. Now don't get me wrong, they are both lovely women, but I do wonder if there was a small element of payback when I discovered I had been given the job of preparing the meal for 32 members of both families!
In that context I'm reminded of George Sims's sad 1879 poem entitled Christmas Day in The Workhouse. I share the bare bones of that morbid tale with you:
"It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse
And the cold bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly
And the place is a pleasant sight."
So far, so good. The thankful paupers receive their Christmas pudding, which is provided from the local rates. That is until there is an interruption:
"But one of the men mutters,
And pushes his plate aside:
‘Great God!' he cries; ‘but it chokes me!
For this is the day that she died'."
Gradually the story unfolds. The previous Christmas this man's wife lay at death's door. He had gone to the workhouse to beg for bread and was turned away as "the house" offered no "out relief;" that was their policy. His poor wife would have to apply as a "pressed pauper" and then take what the parish would provide. Reminds me of Work and Income! But this man and his very sick wife were proud. Not the hated workhouse, oh no! He is tempted to steal but his better nature prevails and he returns to his wife, to hear her cry out:
" ‘Give me a crust - I'm famished -
For the love of God!' she groaned."
He rushed back to the workhouse gate and cried. "Food for a dying woman!" but their answer turned him away.
"My heart sank down on the threshold
And I paused with a sudden chill
For there in the silvery moonlight
My Nancy lay, cold and still."
His heart was torn and broken; his Nancy had died alone in a land of plenty, all but for a loaf of parish bread. He regales the benefactors:
"At yonder gate, last Christmas
I craved for a human life,
You, who would feed us paupers,
What of my murdered wife?"
This poor chap, who had been brought down to accepting parish charity, ended with a strain of personal nobility:
"There, get you gone to your dinners;
Don't mind me in the least;
Think of the happy paupers
While eating your Christmas feast;
And when you recount your blessings
In your smug parochial way
Say what you did for me, too,
Only last Christmas Day."
Well, if you've read this far you are probably as depressed as I am, so why not go down to your local supermarket and buy a load of groceries for your local food bank?
'Er Indoors and I are going to do just that.
Happy festivities to one and all.
- © Fairfax NZ News