The Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Many stores open early and stay open late. Special sales begin before dawn. People line up to purchase the newest high-tech gadgets. It is usually the biggest single sales day for many retailers. And it is often a day of orgiastic buying for consumers.
I remember several years ago when bumper stickers were still in fashion that one of the most popular in New York read: "the one who dies with the most toys wins." I have always thought that the sentiments of that bumper sticker were unfortunately held by far too many Americans. I want to suggest that this year Americans should adopt a new idea. Instead of turning the holiday season into a season of conspicuous overconsumption, I think that we should make this a season when our predominant goal is to help others.
For years, clergy have been urging their congregations to focus less on the commercial side of the holidays and more on its spiritual aspects. I agree. We certainly could use a little less consumerism and a lot more spirituality these days. Furthermore, I think that one important aspect of spirituality, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan or adhere to any other belief system, is the idea of charity. Every major religion in the world encourages charity. I know of none that encourages spending.
I don't want to suggest that we shouldn't buy presents for friends and family. Giving and receiving gifts is fun. It is a way to show affection. But I think we need to remember to give gifts to strangers, to those who have less than we. So I have a few suggestions.
My first and most important is that this year, every single one of us should set aside a portion of the money we were going to spend on presents and give it to charity. It needn't be a great deal. There are thousands of people in the world whose lives can be saved by a few dollars worth of food or medicine. Pick a charity that helps people and help it.
My second suggestion is even more radical. Most of the people I know who do give money to charity tend only to give to those charities for which they receive a tax deduction. The problem is that there are many people whom organized charities cannot reach for one reason or another. Often these people in need are in our own communities. So my second suggestion for this holiday season is that we should all look around our own communities and see who needs help. It may be a single mother down the street or an elderly couple a few doors away. Reach out to them and help them, even though the government won't pay part of the cost. Charity should not always be a matter of tax planning.
My third and final suggestion goes with the second. This year give something anonymously. Often, people's pride prevents them from taking needed help. How many cases have we all heard about an elderly man or woman, too proud to seek or take help, who suffered as a result? The greatest joy of giving should be the giving and the help your gifts provide for others. Recognition needn't be a part of it.
So those are my Thanksgiving thoughts. When Friday morning rolls around, just set aside a small amount of what you would have spent on presents for yourself, friends, and family and give it away to those who need it more. In the end, that will be the best present you ever receive.