I lay in my bed. A felt flannel blanket is wrapped around me like a candy wrapper, my hot cocoa at my side, the steam still misting into the air like ghosts of Christmas past. The snow blankets the skyscrapers of New York, each flake falling seemingly in rhythm with the ringing bells. The shelter is warm, the thermostat in competition with the hearty fireplace that seems like it will never go out. The folks around me are warm — like they’ve never been warm before. They are not out on the hard streets where the ice cuts their skin and the cold bruises their fingertips with frostbite. I am warm and huddled, and watching the stars twinkle as Christmas passes. Today we’re all warm, all the homeless of the city, but what will become of us after Christmas?
The others say I’m crazy to worry about tomorrow if it keeps me from enjoying today. Outside the window, in the snow, thin men with pillows strapped to their chests dressed in Santa costumes wave bells to gather cents for charity. The nearer it got to Christmas Day, the more bills they collected. The day after, they collect but pennies, even as the winter still smothers us in the shelter. The day after Christmas, I fog up the glass with my breath, so I don’t have to see the Santa men beg. When January comes, I close up the blinds, so I don’t have to see the thin men in rags beg for at least a nickel to buy shoelaces for one of the little ones, whose left sneaker is so worn that his pinky pops out through a large, rotted hole.
During Christmas, I’m pitied; given a warm mug or a warm hug. I gain a new woolen jacket, new boots, and a few Santa hats. I get a warm meal—sandwiches, soup, maybe even warm chicken. I’m given more marshmallows than I can eat without growing sick. The children are all gifted new toys. The women are ladies. The elderly are grandparents. The addicts are recovering. I am a man, a man without a PO box, but a man nonetheless.
After Christmas, people spit at my boots on the street. They say I’m lazy, entitled, a parasite, a loser. They say I should get a job, even as I’m searching for work, constantly, always, every day: but it’s hard to gain employment without a real home address. They chase me away with their bloodhounds and shouts and hisses, all for the crime of sleeping on the pavement. I am stolen from, then get accused of stealing. I’m loitering, even as I’m simply standing by a storefront looking for warmth. I’m an addict, even though I’ve never used drugs. I’m diseased. I’m nothing but a flea. Why am I no longer a man after Christmas?
The women are all sluts and whores. The elderly are insane, ill, dangerous, and unfit for society. The addicts are useless, wicked, barbarous, and deranged. It’s always their own fault that they die in the streets. It’s always our fault when we perish out in the cold, for we burden society so, and so they may not even bother to pick up our corpses, stepping over us in the subways. Finally, someone will call an ambulance, but by then, we’ve already passed, and the people who walked over us will think themselves good Christians, even as they turn up their noses at us because they’re better than us. After all, they’re clearly not filthy, vile pestilence who disturb the peace by existing. They only remember we’re people too on Christmas Day. They only feel wicked for abandoning us when they have two sets of eyes upon them instead of only one.
And, thus, I stare out the window as a man places a five hundred dollar bill in a Santa’s bucket. I drink my warm cocoa, the heat nearly burning my tongue. I hear the children play with their dolls and fire trucks and teddy bears that their parents will sell in a month to buy them food and replace their tattered rags with cheap clothing that in another few months will be rags again because cheap clothing isn’t built to last.
I wrap myself tighter in my warm flannel blanket, because the magic that melts hearts on Christmas will disappear by morning, and we’ll all be fleas once more. Why are we not deserving of generosity after Christmas? Why only once a year do we only care for our fellow man?