Politics Magazine

Southern Comfort

Posted on the 21 December 2012 by Steveawiggins @stawiggins

CajunNightOnce upon a time, long before Hurricane Katrina, the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature held their annual meeting in New Orleans. It must’ve been an incongruous sight: the Big Easy filled with right proper professional religionists discoursing eruditely. While there, my family purchased the Cajun Night Before Christmas, by Trosclair. A cute knock-off of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from Santa Claus” (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), the story unfolds of a fur-bedecked Santa visiting a destitute, but grateful family on the bayou. Each year I try to reach deep in my southern roots to find an accent that accommodates the poem, and read the story the week before the holiday comes. A number of factors have suggested that perhaps this year Christmas might catch many people on a more subdued level. Crushing poverty is a reality, guns are too readily available, and the one percent don’t get close enough to humanity to contract the common cold. Even the effects of Katrina have refused to dissipate completely. Her sister Sandy visited the Big Apple, and things still aren’t quite right.

Big Apples and Big Easies may seem to have little in common, apart from how much money is available to assist in hurricane recovery. They both also participate in Christmas, being havens of Catholicity. Yet after the hurricanes some in New York and New Jersey were without power several days, but parts of Louisiana were simply abandoned. The will to help the disadvantaged seems to have improved since 2005. Considering changes at the top, this isn’t necessarily a surprise. Nevertheless, tragedy throws into sharp relief what we consider human decency. Too bad it takes a disaster to make us more human.

What sticks with me about the Cajun Night Before Christmas, apart from the flying alligators, is the profound hopefulness that the poem conveys. Those with so little take so little to improve their lot. Yet those with too much insist it is their right not to be taxed at all. Those who live in a shack don’t expect much from Santa. They have learned through the disappointment of experience that double standards are endemic in life and while some are unbelievably rich, the poor are happy with just the smiles of children. Ironically, Santa is the great equalizer here. While the children of the wealthy may expect and receive more, the children of the humble are also allowed a portion of hope. As I remember New Orleans, in the palmy days before Katrina, it was a city that knew Mardi Gras was far more humane than Lent, and that even a city marked my radical inequities (let those with eyes to see read) could come to a joyous accord when sins are about to be atoned. And even if he has to commandeer alligators, Santa will visit the poorest children the night before the holy days.

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