Well, I’ve gotten half my good deeds for the year taken care of: I did two stints ringing bells for the Salvation Army. I put on one of my Victorian or German outfits, stand outside a local retailer, and ring a bell, smile, and thank people for their generosity. Several groups at various houses of worship in town have “friendly” contests every year to see who can bring in the most
lucre donations. No hard feelings and none of us ever “salt the pot” by adding our own year-end gifts to our group’s take. Nope, never.
No, this not going to be one of those blog posts where the blogger tries to guilt the reader into giving to X group or volunteering with the Sisters of Mercy or something. It’s just more of a rambling meditation on the ability to give and the role of charity in a healthy society, or what I consider healthy.
I can’t think of a religion that does not encourage, if not require, believers to give some of their income or goods to the deity, the community of believers, or those in need. Now, some of us might disagree with the type of donation required – captive members of a neighboring tribe for sacrifice, the first infant born into the family – but it’s obvious that the idea of showing gratitude for something is a major part of all major religions, and all the minor ones that I can think of. It may be in the form of a certain percentage of one’s income (tithing), the first crops and first livestock of the year, flowers in spring, fruit in summer, grain in the fall, paying monks to look after old animals as an act of mercy, the list seems endless. Even those who eschew religion agree that giving is a good thing, although many of them (and some believers) prefer the government to do it through taxes.
Some of the most giving people I know of joke about “yeah, gotta front-load my karma this year.” Or “I’m trying to outrun the karma bus,” or “It’s part of my cover so no one will suspect me when I take over the world with my legions of flying pigs.” Except they are the first on scene when disaster hits, the first to offer a hot meal, or a few bucks and “don’t sweat it, pay me back when you can.”
Winter, specifically the lead up to the feasts associated (or coinciding with) the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice, has become a time for a heavy emphasis on charity. To the point of saturation, in some cases, where you start feeling guilty for not dropping a few coins into every donation box, red kettle, alms tin, or for not buying extra canned food for the office/church/club food pantry drive. There are ads for various groups on TV, more than usual, along with the end of year car sales. By December 20th, it’s enough to make pre-reform Scrooge look mellow.
But grumbling, heads ducked against the cold wind, we still give. And we do it without expecting a reward, other than perhaps a receipt for taxes. And even then a lot of people I know give in cash and ask for it to be kept quiet. I sign up for the Salvation Army gigs because it helps them, and they help other people. Ditto people who give to their local Community Chest, or relief fund, or who “happen to recall” that they have a little extra “left over” and invite someone they know who’s working hard but just in a rough patch to come share. I dress in unusual clothes because 1) they are warm and 2) it makes other people smile (and perhaps encourages them to give a little more, not that my group is trying to “win” the donation day record or anything like that. Noooo. The couple dressed as Santa and Mrs. Clause totally don’t count. Really.)
It’s fun to give, it’s fun to help, to pretend that I’m a nice person. And maybe it kinda makes up for every time I hear a sanctimonious prat droning on about “the importance of paying it forward’ and “paying our debts to society” and feel the urge to shake them until change falls out of their pockets or they get a clue, whichever comes first.