A goat for Christmas?
I borrowed this title from a piece by Patricia Zapor in Catholic News Service.
In her introduction to the intriguing piece she wrote as follows:
“Should the Christmas shopping crowds, costs and commercialism be at odds with how one is trying to observe Advent and the celebration of the birth of Christ, there's a burgeoning world of alternative ways of gift-giving that are vying for attention.”
The first part of this introductory sentence expresses a sentiment felt by many during this time of year. Christmas is becoming a bit (or perhaps more than a bit) of a problem to many people. There are too many gifts to buy for too many people. The word ‘gift’ has lost its meaning. It is no longer the giving of something for free but it has become an exchange. People stop and think how much others will spend on them before they decide how much they themselves will spend.
There is another aspect from the spiritual/religious point of view. Advent has almost lost its meaning. Christmas or what is called the Christmas spirit starts weeks before December 25. That date almost marks the conclusion of the partying and merry making more than its climax.
Patricia Zapor does not actually suggest that we should give a goat for Christmas. A donkey or a sheep would be more apt, given the Gospel narratives. But she does not even suggest those types of gifts. She gives, however, myriad examples of alternative ways of gift-giving than the purely commercial and monetary ones we have become accustomed to.
The Canadian Mennonites started a movement in the 1960s which promotes the idea of a "Buy Nothing Christmas". They encourage people to get simple handmade gifts, things that could be swapped and ready-to-print coupons for baby-sitting. A visit to www.buynothingchristmas.org could be illuminating. (I can understand shop keepers getting hot under their collars at such an audacious suggestion.)
Save the Children, www.savethechildren.org, and Heifer International, www.heifer.org, are a few of the charities that would be happy to match your money with a family in need of a farm animal, knitting supplies or a clean cooking stove.
Zapor says that there are alternative gift programmes, in which one buys a gift that benefits someone in greater need, whether in a far-off land or at the social service programme across town. In return, the buyer receives just a card about the donation to pass along to someone on their gift list.
In Malta several offices and other places of work are organising an initiative called Secret Santa. Members of staff buy gifts capped at Euro10 to other members of staff. Could one extend this initiative to people in need in Malta or overseas?
The Catholic Relief Services organises online direct sales and its Work of Human Hands consignment sales. About 500 parishes and other organizations hold such sales once a year or more. Fair trade coffee and chocolate are the biggest sellers. In Malta there is a fair trade shop in St Paul’s Str. Valletta. It is definitively worth a visit. There one can find nice gifts but will have the added pleasure that one is helping the people who produced them and not the middleman or large corporations.
Catholic parishes in the United States are very active in their efforts to mitigate the commercial influence and strengthen the charitable works. From the first Sunday of Advent onwards, the members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Los Angeles, are this year collecting money for Meals on Wheels, a tutoring programme for homeless children and Homeboy Industries, which gives youths an alternative to gang involvement.
Parishes in Malta are very active during the Advent and Christmas period and help is given to many families in need. These are initiatives organised at the grass roots level to help those in need at the grass root level.
On the national scene, L-Istrina is quite naturally the mother of all charities. Hundreds, if not thousands, are helped throughout the year thanks to the donations given during this feast of solidarity. There are then many other initiatives helping different institutions and activities.
This is after all the time of giving; an attempt on our part to emulate He who gave us Himself.