By now, I should be used to the wacky and the tacky at Christmastime, from beer-can trees to Kris Kringle toilet seat covers. But nothing in a lifetime of holidays prepared me for The Ugly Sweater.
The best thing I can say about The Ugly Sweater is that it’s one-of-a-kind, because the existence of two on the planet would cause me to despair for the human race. To properly envision it, imagine a sweater created with the budget of Donald Trump and the taste of Liberace on a bender, with just a touch of George Lucas for panache.
A-glitter with nearly 25,000 gaudy crystals, it features Santa Claus flying through space on a unicorn, while garishly red-and-green planets gleam in the background. There’s even a faux diamond necklace around the collar – because, you know, if you’ve gone this far, you might as well do it with class, right? The price tag for this little gem? About $30,000.
Hey, who needs a car, anyway?
Yes, it’s real. You can Google dozens of references in a blink as long as you remember not to eat first. And it’s tempting to be just a little outraged at someone spending thirty grand for a sweater that’s too heavy to even wear comfortably. (Yes, of course it comes with a frame!) But anytime something like this comes to my attention, I usually calm myself with two thoughts:
1) Anyone who would blow $30,000 on Santa Bling Is Coming to Space probably wasn’t about to spend it on widows and orphans as their second choice, anyway.
2) Unicorn Santa and gewgaws like it make a nice lightning rod for people with much wealth and little judgment, relieving them of their cash before it can do some serious damage. Sort of like taking the keys from the inebriated at New Year’s, only with less need for breath mints.
Besides, while it’s easy to laugh – and I did my share, believe me — it is possible to turn the question around.
What have we done with our time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere?
Reality check: I don’t live like a monk and I’m not about to force anyone else to do the same. We all do fun things, frivolous things, even downright bizarre things with our resources at times, and that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s even part of what makes this world a fun and colorful place to be.
But it’s also never wrong to ask “Have I done all the good I could do?” Maybe we don’t live in golden palaces or have Rudolph the Ruby-Encrusted Reindeer, but many of us have something. Compared to much of the world, we have a lot.
What are we doing with it?
It’s a question that becomes very palpable at this time of year. It’s one that should be more visible at all times.
The writer C.S. Lewis once said that the only safe rule for charity was to give more than we could spare. “If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they were too small,” he wrote. There should be something you would like to do, and can’t, he insisted, because of what you’ve already given.
It can look overwhelming, I agree. But just because we’re not doing everything doesn’t mean we can’t do something.
Is there someone to be helped? A friend, a relative, a stranger not yet met?
Is there a task that needs our skill? A hurt that needs our comfort? A wrong that can be made right, however briefly?
All it takes is a willingness to start. And if each of our littles can equal a lot, that is one dazzling gift, indeed.
Even more dazzling than Santa Claus on a space unicorn.