The festive season is also a season of charity – the perfect time to think of others in the most selfless way possible. As American author Washington Irving wrote in the early nineteenth century: “Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”
Charity Donations as Gifts
Most people have some charitable cause they believe in, if not actively support. A charity donation in someone’s name can be one of the most touching and personal gifts of all. This is a wonderful option if the recipient is normally difficult to buy for and insistent that “I have everything I want.” That’s not to say their message is delivered in a grumpy manner: they are just speaking the truth as they see it. They are in a fortunate position and don’t want money spent on them unnecessarily.
If you still go ahead and buy a present for these ‘people with everything’, most will still accept it with a smile and a thank you. These are the gracious majority. But there are also those few who greet gifts with a sneer. There is always that one person with whom you can never quite get it right, however hard you try. Our message is stop trying quite so much. Tell them you are making a donation to charity in their name from now on. They may well sneer at that, too – but at least the charity will be happy and your money won’t be wasted.
Generally, when it comes to gift giving, something you have put a great deal of thought into is preferable every time to an item that makes the recipient feel you don’t know them at all. Donating to a charity that is dear to them shows such friendly thought in abundance.
“A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.”
Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959), English-born American poet
Remembering a Lost Loved One
Charitable gifts are a good place to start to honour at Christmas the dearly departed. Make a donation to a charity most admired by the person you are commemorating – donate in their name. If possible, offer your time to the charity. From an hour of fund-raising on the city streets to a whole day of selfless assistance: you cannot put a price on how much that could benefit the organisation. Alternatively, buy a gift your loved one would have liked and donate it to a local nursing home or hospice.
We have much more on this subject on the Coping with Christmas page. If you need someone to talk to, someone to understand, and you feel that person is not or cannot be a family member or friend then you can call the charity Samaritans. This tremendous organisation provides confidential help and is non-denominational. More details on their website at samaritans.org or in the UK by telephone on Samaritans free helpline number 116 123. Charity works in many ways.
Random Acts of Kindness Day
Christmas is most certainly the paramount time to think of others so why not have a day sprinkled with acts of random kindness and get family, friends and neighbours to join in. It can be anything from checking on an elderly neighbour to letting a mother with children and a mountain of shopping go in front of you in the supermarket. A simple charitable act goes a long way to spreading Christmas cheer.
“Somehow, not only for Christmas, but all the long year through, the joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing the poor and lonely and sad, the more of your heart’s possessing returns to you glad.”
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), American poet
Volunteer Your Services & Donate Goods
Aim to give something back to those less fortunate this Christmas and every Christmas. Donate tinned food to a nearby food bank and toys to a local toy-drive, volunteer at a soup kitchen for the homeless or visit a home for the elderly and take homemade Christmas treats for the residents. Get the children involved in the packing of tins and baking of biscuits and inform them why their actions are so valuable and important.
We also like the notion of children putting toys they rarely play with in a sack under the tree ready for Father Christmas. When he drops off new toys, he can take the old ones away and donate them to charity. Mum and Dad – you know what to do!
“The only things we ever keep are what we give away.”
Louis Ginsberg (1896-1976), American poet & professor
Charity Christmas Cards
It’s good to feel that not only have you purchased cards you love but that you’ve also made a small contribution to charity in the process. Check carefully though. Exactly how much of the purchase price goes to the charity can vary tremendously. With supermarket and store bought cards you will generally find a much smaller amount is donated compared to buying direct from the charity itself. The Charities Advisory Trust (charitiesadvisorytrust.org.uk) holds its annual Scrooge Awards for those retailers who have perhaps been a little less than generous. Before you think small contributions don’t matter or make a difference, and you go a bit Scrooge-like yourself, look at the following extract from the Trust’s website. It certainly made us re-think our position on the value of charity cards when we read this:
“Does it matter? It matters! A charity Christmas card can make a lot of difference: Just 1 pack of ‘Potting Shed’ (£5.99) pays for two weeks’ schooling for a child in Africa. ‘London Vista’ (£4.99) – sold in aid of Knit for Peace – provides materials for a woman in a refugee camp to knit warm clothing for a child in the camp. Just one pack of ‘St Paul’s from the Millennium Bridge’ (£6.99) provides 8 school notebooks. Just 1 pack of ‘Tin Toys’ (£5.99) pays for 2 courses of antibiotics in India or Africa, where sick people are often sent home to die for a lack of drugs routinely available to us.”
Card Aid is another charity Christmas card website that may interest you at cardaid.co.uk. It is linked with the Charities Advisory Trust and also has a wide range of pre-printed, personalised and charity e-cards to purchase. There’s also charitychristmascards.com which has raised over ten million pounds over the last thirty years for over two hundred UK charities. Personalised cards start from just under £1 each with between 10p and 50p per card going to your chosen charity.
Charities to Consider
The tales on the How to Christmas page entitled Our Original Stories are offered for no charge, but we suggest you might want to donate to charity if you like any of them and are so inclined. No pressure! If you don’t have a favourite charity of your own, might we recommend some close to our hearts:
Helen Rollason Cancer Charity – This splendid charity offers support for people touched by cancer. It was founded in 1999 and named after television presenter Helen Rollason MBE, who fought her battle with cancer in the public eye but sadly died that same year. She was a warm, generous and courageous woman and this charity is an amazing legacy – helenrollason.org.uk.
Willow Foundation – Willow was founded in 1999 by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV presenter Bob Wilson and his wife Megs as a lasting memorial to their daughter Anna, who died of cancer aged 31. This wonderful charity is dedicated to bringing special days to the seriously ill aged between 16-40 living in the UK – willowfoundation.org.uk.
Make-A-Wish Foundation UK – granting wishes of children and young people ages three to 17 living with life-threatening illnesses – make-a-wish.org.uk.
The British Heart Foundation – the UK’s number one heart charity – bhf.org.uk.
Cancer Research UK – a collective force in beating cancer – cancerresearchuk.org.
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research -a leading UK blood cancer charity – bloodwise.org.uk.
Help for Heroes – a charity formed to help those wounded in Britain’s conflicts: helpforheroes.org.uk.
The Royal British Legion – providing help and welfare to the serving and ex-service community and their families and responsible for the Poppy Appeal – britishlegion.org.uk.
Reuben’s Retreat – providing a retreat in NW England, help and support for families and close friends who have suffered bereavement of a child or have a child with life limiting or threatening conditions – reubensretreat.org.
Cystic Fibrosis Trust – a national charity funding research into the disease and providing support and information for patients and families – cysticfibrosis.org.uk.
Alzheimer’s Society – leading the fight against dementia in the UK – alzheimers.org.uk.
Oxfam is a leading charity, founded in the UK in the forties, which fights global poverty. Oxfam releases its annual Christmas catalogue “Oxfam Unwrapped” containing an array of unusual and, in many cases, life-changing gifts. Suggestions can also be viewed online at oxfamunwrapped.com. Once there, just click on the ‘View All Gifts’ icon – as shown below – to view the selection.
The poster boy for the campaign is Archie the Oxfam Goat. He’s the kind of gift worthy of a storyline on a Christmas episode of the BBC sitcom “Outnumbered”, when inquisitive child Karen quizzes the gift-giver – in her own inimitable style – to determine whether or not Karen’s family actually own the goat. We believe, even if Karen is unsure, that a goat gift is special. If you have a Nectar card, you can even use Nectar points to buy Unwrapped gifts – plus there are added extras you can include with your main charity purchases, like a solid milk chocolate Archie the Goat, mulled wine spices and bee friendly seeds. The money raised from these gifts is allocated to one of four project categories. All the details are in the catalogue and on the Oxfam website.
The Big Give Christmas Challenge
Making a welcome festive return is The Big Give Christmas Challenge, the UK’s largest online match-funding campaign. For seven days, it offers supporters of participating charities the opportunity to have their donations doubled at theBigGive.org.uk.
Since the Big Give – founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Alec Reed – was launched in 2008, the Christmas Challenge has raised more than £90 million for thousands of charity projects.