The Season to Give

The holidays are almost upon us, and with them come get-togethers with family and close friends. Gatherings that almost invariably include copious quantities of food and drink. Loads of presents for everyone. At least, for those who should be so fortunate.

For others, the holidays represent a time of being alone yet again, and scraping together a meal just like any other day throughout the year. Perhaps the special occasion will be having a festive dinner at a local shelter or church. And presents? That is a luxury that cannot be afforded.

Years ago I used to listen to a song by progressive rockers Jethro Tull, simply entitled “Christmas Song.” The lyrics basically described the contrast between gluttony and having nothing, and how those who focus on their own fortune, ignoring those in need, have completely missed the point of what Christmas is all about. Admittedly, I come from a religious tradition where we don’t even celebrate Christmas, yet I have always noticed that the differences between the “haves” and “have nots” come through more clearly at this time of year than at any other.

This is not to say that people who can, should not enjoy themselves with fun, food, and frivolity. But responsible citizens should feel a nagging at their conscience to help others – especially at a time of year when giving is on everyone’s mind. Or at least it should be. Here are some ideas that are easy and will hardly even make a dent in the pocketbook.

Donations to the Food Bank are needed all year round, but especially at the holidays. Give one non-perishable item per person in your family. If you will be having guests, ask that they bring one item each.

The holidays are about giving, so why not give some of your time – it is just as valuable as anything money can buy. Volunteer to help out inner city organizations that hold festive meals for the low income and homeless, and in general have a greater need for help due to increased use of services and people being away. It’s an eye-opening experience that can also be extremely rewarding – and extremely humbling. Check with places such as The Bissell Centre and The Mustard Seed to find out about volunteer opportunities at this time of year.

Don’t forget about children from lower income families whose parents may not be able to afford to buy them presents. When you shop for the little ones on your gift-giving list, pick up one new toy for Santa’s Anonymous. You can also teach your children about the importance of giving and try something that a friend of mine used to do when she was a child. Prior to Christmas, she would pick one of her own toys to be donated to charity. Fire stations, hospitals, and shelters will often take used toys that are in good condition.

Giving doesn’t have to be limited to just once a year. After engaging in generosity that extends beyond one’s own household, you just may find it addictive. But this is a good addiction that will hopefully make festive occasions just that much more special – not only for yourself, but for those in need.

Paula E. Kirman is an Edmonton writer, photographer, and website designer who wishes everyone a happy and safe holiday season. She still listens to Jethro Tull.