Christmas values – Day 6: Charity

“Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

It feels like at this time of year, liberal or conservative, we all grow a little more tender hearted towards those in need.

Ok, our definitions of who is in need are sometimes head scratching: a friend of mine in the midwest recently started pastoring a church that runs a toy drive among its working- to middle-class congregation (a lot of nurses and administrators and so forth), with the toys going to their own children at the church’s big Christmas celebration. When he asked about whether they might want to give to children in real need, maybe through the town’s fire and police annual Toys for Tots project, they stroked their chins and acknowledged that one year, they did give the leftover toys to charity.

But that congregation notwithstanding, we all donate a little more and smile a little more and hope it all balances out when we claim our tax deductions in April.

Of course, there are some people who worry that even this season is becoming less charitable as a warped version of free market capitalism becomes laudable in certain circles (what Ayn Rand horrifyingly referred to as “the virtue of selfishness”). Witness here Jimmy Kimmel’s rendition of the Fox News interpretation of It’s a Wonderful Life:

But how far does charity carry us? Can it carry us beyond January 6, the end of the Christmas season?

There is a famous quote by Eduardo Galeano:

 In Spanish, in part, it reads: 

Interestingly, another famous Galeano quote that feels particularly germane to the idea of the Christchild born in a manger in Bethlehem is this:

The interesting thing that many of us forget as we reflect on our nativity scenes (and I have a dozen from different countries; I love them very much) is that Jesus (along with the religion that entered the world through him) was born into colonialism and was shaped by its reaction to colonization. Because Jesus was not wealthy, there were few acts of charity in which he could engage as far as material things go: he had to extend solidarity when he shared food with others. In fact, the most famous example of God’s abundant charity, the feeding of the 5,000 men in addition to women and children, was itself an act of protest against colonizing forces, according to some Bible scholars. Rome would give out bread to the masses, bread to maintain the peace. Jesus, in his act of multiplying loaves and fishes, said to his Jewish brothers and sisters, “we don’t need to rely on our oppressors to feed us. Look at how we can feed ourselves when we share what we have. Look at the miracle that is brought forth today through our solidarity with one another.”

When we forget that Jesus’ birth and life were actually in response to colonization, it is easy for our religion to unconsciously participate in colonization and ultimately to disintegrate before our very eyes.

Charity is hard for me to maintain. I don’t know how many ongoing relationships you have with poor folks, homeless folks, but I can tell you, when I function out of charity with my homeless friends, my patience wears thin and my scolding nature surfaces fairly quickly. And I’m ashamed to admit, it’s because I start out thinking I’m better than they are. When we are vulnerable with each other, when we share with each other, that relationship lasts longer, and it lasts beyond the “no” that either of us might need to extend to each other.

And so today as I ask whether Christmas is actually a season of charity or of solidarity, I find myself thinking of Ebenezer Scrooge, who didn’t want to give to people he saw as beneath him. The transformation the ghosts wrought in him helped him realize that people in need were not actually his inferiors, and his generosity and his spirit were greater and lighter than before. I think there might be a lesson for all of us.

As for Ebenezer Scrooge, “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”

This post is part of a 12-part series Sandhya is writing on the values of Christmas. If you want to support Sandhya’s writing, you can become a mini-patron at patreon.com, a site designed to allow people to support the work of artists they value.

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