‘Tis the season to give, and for the most part, everyone does. Excepting those who volunteer for charity, I have seen friends, family, and complete strangers often dig deep into their wallets to find a spare dollar to donate. With the Christmas season around the corner, however, the onslaught of humanitarian organizations asking for donations will soon be upon us. And whether you firmly believe in that fat man coming down a chimney or the humble babe in a manger, giving continues to be part of the equation at Christmas. Unfortunately, like any secularized American ideal, we have turned giving into a form of selfishness instead of selflessness.
My giving during the holiday season is often unwarranted, unneeded, and extraneous. We pride ourselves in our “generosity” towards others, when in actuality most of us give to our family and friends who often have bulging pockets and bulging stomachs, people that can pay us back in more exorbitant ways. We don’t give to truly give; we give to get. We give to get money, love, or affection. We give meaningless, costly items that pale in comparison to the bigger picture. Often, the recipient didn’t really need your three-cheese grinder, or plantain peeler. While they murmur, “Oh, how thoughtful,” your $19.99 purchase of a butterfly displayed in a picture frame will be collecting dust in a few weeks. Our gifts are unnecessary, unneeded, and are often for our own benefit. We give for the sake of social acceptance and propriety, two dull forces that have been essential to maintaining social status but unnecessary in genuinely making a change.
Now, before you might wave your hand up in the air, wait a moment. I give to charity. And you probably do too. But if you’re anything like me, you give to charity when you feel like it, when your pockets have enough money that you can spare the change. When the cashier asks if I’d like to donate a dollar to feed hungry children, I often politely decline while carefully choosing a pack of gum. One dollar could have gone a long way to saving a child’s life, but my bad breath seemed more important at the moment. Since those hungry children are not directly in front of me, I feel a lack of empathy and thus don’t feel a need to donate, at least, not as much as I should. My needs, my friends, my family, seem worth giving to because they are present before me day in and day out. We all believe we give “enough” to charity. But when is “enough” really enough when the money I spent on that tabloid could have prevented two deaths from starvation?
Before you burn me at the stake for my harsh words, I must concede that many of my readers are completely sacrificial in their giving. They work hard, some taking two or three jobs even, to balance the amount of money they spend to tell their cherished ones that they love them. I get it. I am not villainizing you, rather, I am admitting the flaws I see in my own motives when I give, and I wonder if they may be the same for you. In any case, I fully believe that we don’t give enough to those who truly need it.
As Americans, we have turned Christmas into a selfish holiday. We give to people who can pay us back. When we give publicly to those who can’t pay back the money that we can spare, many of us do it so that others will notice us and pat us on the back. The reality of the harsh lives that others around the world have today is far from our hearts. Much of us, including myself, simply forget the poor. We are so warmed with Christmas cheer and hot chocolate that we forget that the money that we spent purchasing our trivial items could go to a greater cause. We forget that there are those who don’t have clean water to drink, who are enslaved in the sex trade, who are orphans, or who are homeless. We forget that we can make a difference because we are too caught up in ourselves and our warm feelings.
This year, let’s give not because we must. Let’s give freely and graciously to help those who aren’t as blessed as we are. There are a multitude of organizations which you can donate to, and often, if you donate a certain amount of money, you can receive a handmade gifts made by the people you donated to. If you still need to put gifts under that tree, that isn’t a problem. Research organizations that donate part of their profits to charities. Some well-known organizations, such as TOMS, donate part of their profits to the funds for the mentally ill or poor. Some non-profit organizations allow you to donate money in the name of a loved one, buying necessities such as seeds and farm animals for poor, underprivileged peoples in other countries. You can receive a certificate detailing your donation in the name of that loved one, and as a Christmas present, you can give this certificate to him, telling him of his contribution to aiding someone else.
The season of giving is upon us. Whatever you choose to give or however much, simply remember that motives are the most important part of this equation. In legend, Old Saint Nick gave away his inheritance to a poor man to pay for his daughters’ dowries so that they could have their happy ending. In religion, Jesus gave away his freedoms to be confined by the limits of time and humanity to save mankind. Whether you believe these tales to be folklore or fact doesn’t matter in the aspect of giving; perhaps it is time for all of us to simply give out of the goodness of our hearts, just as they did, to the people who needed it the most.