Peace, love, and the ghosts of Christmas Past

activist, author, former political prisoner

Camille Marino
December 24, 2018

When I was a child, I enjoyed the holidays. They gave all of our dysfunctional nuclear families a chance to gather together with the large Italian-American extended family where we shared generational quirks as well as warmth, love, and security. This is what the holidays are — a celebration of friends, family, and maybe taking a second to be grateful for each other. It’s arguing about politics with that staunch partisan relative, reaching out to little Johnny who’s on a path of addiction and delinquency, pulling his cousin’s face out of her plate where she passed out, or gossiping about Uncle Vinny coming alone because Aunt Betty is busy with her boyfriend. And let’s embrace that traditional American value where we pretend our families are above it all.

The holidays were about family drama. I don’t remember seeing a single bible during the Christmas season when we celebrated the alleged birth of a savior. That’s not what it was about; only an excuse to connect with the people we love. I don’t remember hearing stories of Puritans and settlers building a new world together and sharing in a Thanksgiving. Irrespective of the fact that our sanitized and distorted American mythology is anything but accurate, I don’t remember the subject ever coming up. As I get older, it is the sense of family and belonging that I remember fondly. And, simultaneously, I am horrified at all of the gratuitous and unmitigated suffering of others with which my memories are tinged.

From where I sit today, hovering in the background of every table celebration are the ghosts of the individuals who suffered and died, their corpses ravaged as we carved off their drumsticks, wings, or legs. As an adult, I sometimes mourn my ignorance. I have nothing but fond memories — especially the arguments, spats, or drunken mishaps — of my family. But once we become aware that our festivities revolve around the murder and butchery of other beings who deserved to enjoy their lives just as much, the holiday seasons become a time to mourn, not celebrate.

It’s all so unnecessary and gratuitous and that makes the season even more difficult to tolerate. Where did we ever get the idea that shoving our arm up the anal cavity of a dead bird to insert breading and let it bake was anything but abhorrent. Or tearing the baby calve from its mother’s teat, siphoning off her milk meant for him, letting it congeal, and then murdering the calf to smother him in the melting concoction. Add sauce and we call that anomaly veal parmagiana. But those murdered animals were generally reserved for Christmas Day. The eve was celebrated around seafood. Throwing lobsters in boiling water to subject them to the most excruciating death possible before we lay them on a plate with scungili, calamari, or squid. I never really did know the difference; only that they had tentacles. Again, add sauce and the plate of death is complete.

I miss being able to gather at those tables and enjoy my family. But I will never again be complicit in the most pervasive and unconscionable genocide known to man. It’s so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. Maybe I can make the people I love begin to understand. For now, whether it’s drinks with friends tonight or sharing a vegan pizza tomorrow, I’m grateful to be able to share that love and warmth with the people in my life while I basically sit out the Christmas season.

My sincere wish is peace and love to all, including nonhuman animals.

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