What if Christmas was invented in 2020?

You might have visited your local church, attended your child’s nativity play or visited a local appliance shop using hoovers to recreate the birth of Christ. Have you ever wondered what the nativity story would be like if it took place in 2020?

If a couple of homeless immigrants with a newborn son came knocking on your door, would you let them in?

Even if the effects of the economic crisis have encouraged people to reconsider their views on who might be affected by poverty, many people have harsh attitudes towards the homeless, as demonstrated by St Mungo’s “street stories”:

“You’re just unseen aren’t you? People don’t see you, you’re invisible. You’re just f’ing invisible and people treat you like that because they want to.”

When it comes to Joseph and Mary’s status in Bethlehem as immigrants, around 70% consider immigration a problem for the country, less than 20% think it is a problem locally and that the country should accept less asylum seekers.

Civic by design, dignity by default

As a working family, Jesus’ parents would probably have had to depend on charity handouts for this Christmas and be rehoused in “out of area” temporary accommodation. Or they may have been forced to squat and end up in jail for it,

What if we designed public spaces that helped the homeless find spaces to stay, rather than make it difficult and hostile to do so? Rather than move in the direction of building tent cities, why not learn from the “tiny house” movement which makes better use of the land, provides dignity for people without a home and a sense of community?

What if Joseph had met the PWMA, which helps vulnerable immigrant workers evicted from housing by employment agencies to find temporary accommodation, as well as advising them on work and benefit issues?

What if Mary had joined the Beyond Care Childcare Cooperative which could have provided her with childcare services for Jesus? What if she had met Becky John, the founder of “Who Made Your Pants”, who set up a cooperative to help refugees living in Southampton use fabric leftover from clothes factories to create new underwear? Who knows, she could have become a social entrepreneur herself with support from the Young Foundation! Much more worthwhile than gold, frankincense or myrrh!

Reclaiming the Christmas myth

Ironically, given how we use the Nativity story to buy each other gifts at Christmas, as a carpenter, Joseph could very well have lost his job with the rise of mass manufacturing and instead had to work for one of the most important distributors of presents at Christmas, which removes away so many strips of its employee’s dignity that some prefer to go homeless.

…So now let’s think about how different the story of Father Christmas would be if it had been dreamt up in 2020.

Would he still deliver candy to the children that had behaved well and coal that hadn’t? Both candy and coal represent an economy which doesn’t care as if people and the environment mattered. What about instead, providing seeds for children to grow into food or reused materials for them to repurpose into toys, so that the gifts were enjoyed beyond Christmas Day and provided a way for children to become makers rather than consumers?

Unfortunately, the most deprived families don’t even have that choice. They will need to decide whether to “gift” their children food on the table or warmth in their bedrooms.

When it comes to the myth of how the Father Christmas operational model works, would the elves still be working in Father Christmas’ craft shop, or would they have been taken over and outsourced to a distribution centre? Would they have unionised to protest their conditions, created an Occupy North Pole or set up a mutual?

What about Father Christmas himself, an elderly man living on his own with his reindeer in the middle of nowhere? With the number of older men living alone to increase by 65% by 2030 and loneliness a bigger killer than obesity, Santa Claus is a rare example of an old man living on his own who ventures out to meet others. What if we reconsidered our relationship to the older people around us to share experiences and help everyone prepare for later life, how can we hack ageing?

Perhaps, what we can learn from these myths is how we can avoid the practices and values of gifting and sharing that build everyday solidarity to be co-opted by organisations who want to turn our relational instincts into consumerist behaviours?

Head of Strategy (Communities) @camdencouncil #localgov Director @euroalter Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese