Charity shouldn’t just be a Christmas thing

Well, Thanksgiving is here and that means the holiday season now goes into full swing.  Tis the time of year when we overeat overspend and act as though eggnog was an entire food group.  Sadly, it is also the only time of year some of us remember those less fortunate who depend on the kindness of strangers to make their way in life.

I tend to be a “Bah! Humbug!” kind of person during the holiday season.  Before my mother died, she and I had a conversation about that. I told her that what made me crazy about this season is that people suddenly become aware of the need for charity and for just this one month act on what they claim are their year round beliefs. 

My mother’s attitude was that we were better off with people feeling this way once a year rather than never feeling this way at all.  The holidays are when people are in a giving mood. Many charities stand to make substantial progress on needed goals, whether monetary or material, during this brief four-week span.  So, as much as I hate to admit it, my mother was right. Better to be charitable once a year than never to be charitable at all.

But lets just consider for a moment how wonderful life would be if we carried the idea of charity throughout the year.  What if we remembered that the people at the Brother Frances Shelter need to eat every day?  What if we kept in mind that Big Sisters and Big Brothers need volunteers year round? What if we actually lived each day as though we should try to make some contribution to those in need around us – not just so we could feel we were wonderful but so that this world could be a better place? Isn’t Christmas about the birth of a man who espoused the idea of doing what we could for the least of our brethren?

So here are some ideas that can be carried on throughout the year to keep the spirit of the holidays alive well past the current expiration date of January 1, something people repeatedly wish for during the season itself. I can’t take credit for all these ideas myself. I borrow liberally from the wonderful example of some of my friends.

For starts, how about making it a family rule that at least once a month you and your children participate in some form of volunteer community endeavor. This can be anything from spending an afternoon helping out at the no kill cat shelter to a morning spent volunteering at Special Olympics.

The key here is that as parents, you need to set the example.  You need to do this as a family. It doesn’t work to just tell your kids to volunteer while you complain that you haven’t got the time to help out. Your kids are busy too.

Another idea – require your children to save at least 10% of their allowance, and any other money they earn, for charity. At the end of the year, they get to decide how to spend that money. It would mean they’d have to take time from drawing up their Christmas “gimme” list to actually think about people, animals and whole eco-systems that are in need of help. 

Imagine how wonderful it will be to watch them struggle to choose the best place to send their money, an action they can only take after some effort at finding the cause that most speaks to their hearts. And imagine what you can learn about your child while watching this process and their ultimate decision.

One of my favorite young men came up with what I consider the all time winning decision of using his charity savings at a charity auction. He got to fulfill his charity commitment while buying his family their Christmas presents at the same time. Now that’s a young man with a creative future.

And if you don’t have children? Then take these ideas to your friends and make it a group effort. Like exercising, community volunteering is more fun when done with friends.  To say nothing of the great new friends you might make.

Will all this take time? Maybe pinch you a little financially? Look around.  The causes you donate to each holiday season feel the pinch a lot more than you ever will. And they feel it every day, all day, not just four weeks out of the year.

I think you’ll have a much happier and more meaningful holiday if you can look back on a year in which your efforts made this world a little better place to be.