Giving is a family affair

  • December 8, 2010
The world of advocacy can be a depressing place much of the time. That is why this time of year is so enjoyable.

Despite the gravity of the issues we read and write about throughout the year, the Christmas season brings out powerful media messages and, perhaps more to the point, brings crowds into the streets and malls focused on the act and spirit of giving.


The advertisers do quite a good job of portraying gift-giving and receiving as an enjoyable, if potentially costly, priority. Some people find it offensive, this constant equation of happiness with finding the perfect gift for people who appear to already have more than they need. However, people have been complaining about the commercialization of Christmas for as long as I can remember. For marketers, every day of the year is a commercial prospect. At Christmastime, at least the messages and images tend to be family-focused, often much more so than the TV programs many of the marketers are sponsoring.

Any television, computer or flyer through the door can provide good ideas for gifts. For the believers on my list, as well as a few of my media buddies, I will be buying Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, Light of the World. After all the hoopla about what he really said, could have said, ought to have said and really meant to say, the opportunity to see it in context will be worthwhile. I suspect the rest of the book will be much more interesting than the three or four paragraphs that lit up the news.

We should be thankful when most of the people on our lists don’t really need anything. For many of us, the best gift might be a donation to a favourite charity. The Christmas focus on gift-giving is an opportunity for parents to teach their children about the importance of supporting good causes, a lesson that many families find difficult if they have little or no personal contact with the needy.

As with any sort of gift giving, a good place to start is the child’s own interests. The youngest age groups might relate best to buying a favourite toy or book to contribute to a toy drive. At our house, at the end of each season we usually donate our soccer jerseys to a charity that works with our club to provide uniforms to players in needier areas. I always found children related to that type of gesture much better than to anonymous envelopes. A budding journalist might be interested in donating to a cause related to current news. Events in Haiti over the past year doubtless sparked much student interest.

Whatever your choice, you can be assured that all charities need and appreciate the help. In addition to support of the Church, most of us have causes that are meaningful to us that will always need direct support from our charitable giving. Normally, the phrase “too numerous to mention” is a euphemism for lazy research, but in this case I think it is the fairest way to emphasize that there are countless good causes to support, and worthy organizations that are devoted to them year-round.

My own favourite cause is literacy and there are a number of organizations that work with all ages to improve reading and writing skills. Computer literacy and access is another growing area of concern, and one where I think more concerted support could make a huge difference for the next generation. To name one organization would have the effect of downplaying the efforts of others that are just as good, but literacy in general is one area where the whole family can relate and donate.

Canada Customs and Revenue (cra-arc.gc.ca) provides a list of registered charities, as well as news of those that have been suspended, annulled or penalized for any reason. Many organizations offer online donation through CanadaHelps.org.

Like any big sector of the economy, the charitable wing is going to have a small number of poorly run  and supervised organizations where your money is not well spent, but too many people seem to use news stories about them as an excuse to donate to nothing. Presumably these people do not stop eating when there are reports of problems in food processing plants or restaurants.

In any case, it’s always important to spend prudently. The support of charity is very much in keeping with how to keep Christmas faith-focused and family-oriented.

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