16 December 2011

We need a little Christmas

And by that, I mean we need a little generosity, which people sometimes remember is the hallmark of the season but mostly forget in the wave of Black Friday and gimme, gimme, gimme promotions. Two of the most offensive things that I've seen this year are ads referring to "giftmas" and the Best Buy "Game On, Santa" ads.

The winter holidays are a difficult time of year for me. My father was unemployed or underemployed for a significant part of my childhood, so we lived close to the bone. Christmas for me became more about putting up the tree, baking and enjoying the lights than about gifts. Even now, receiving gifts is a source of confusion and distress for me (though I'll take your love, affection, friendship, smiles, hugs and laughter any day of the week). I love the music, and loved caroling (you asked. My favorite is "Carol of the Bells."). We always got books through the kindness of a family friend, and clothing from a relative (usually the only new clothes I ever had), and some stuff here and there. My mother would squirrel away funds in a Christmas account to pay for presents and a dinner that was a little nicer.

It's funny how some of these options are no longer available to families trying to keep afloat. The banks discourage saving, and recently, I read that those of us who do save are responsible for the crappy economy because we are "hoarding money." How times change.

Still, I was happy to see a couple of years ago that some stores had wised up and rather than relying upon credit cards, were back to offering layaway where customers pick out merchandise and the store holds it while the customer makes payments. It was a method of purchase that was utilized a great deal when I was a kid.

And I was even more heartened to read yesterday about all of Kmart's "layaway angels," strangers who were paying off others' accounts so kids would have toys and clothing at Christmas. A woman in Indiana paid for thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, and only asked that people "remember Ben," evidently a reference to her late husband.

Generosity comes in many forms, and a lot of them are much smaller and less newsworthy but just as welcome and equally awesome. Whether you are in need or can give, you, too, can be generous. It's as simple as what should be common courtesy: holding a door for another person or letting a car merge on the freeway without making them fight for a space. Remember to say please. Remember to thank the person who held the door for you.

If you've got bigger ideas, though, the possibilities for kindness are endless. Find out what your local food bank or homeless shelter needs and provide a few items. Food banks have been emptied because of the increased need, and even if you can only give a few boxes of pasta or a couple of cans of vegetables, you'll help feed someone else. Homeless shelters are often on the look out for new underwear and warm socks for their clients, and many can also use toiletries. The daughter and I spent an afternoon assembling hygiene kits for our local rescue mission, while the son and I packed holiday meal boxes for another charity. We gave small gifts to our local children's hospital for kids who will be stuck there receiving treatment during the holidays. We also support Donors Choose, and a whole bunch of kids in high poverty schools will be returning to brand new sets of books when they go back to class in 2012. Because I believe in the power of reading and the gift of possibility.

Or you can always head out to Kmart.

Just don't forget that generosity is a gift that comes in all shapes and sizes.

Go listen to some music: "We Need a Little Christmas" from the musical Mame, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Yes, this song does send a bit of a mixed message, but as the story goes, the protagonist has lost all her money in the Crash of 1929, and is calling for a little cheer to raise everyone's spirits. I'm calling for good works, but you know me. And if you really know me, the charities I support the most are those devoted to education and animals. Anonymously, for the most part.

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