Friday, 2 December 2011

I do not want a goat for Christmas thank you very much!

Last year two of my siblings, instead of actual Christmas gifts, presented me with email certificates saying a goat or chicken or part of a well or something had been given to third world people on my behalf. 

I'm sure they meant well, but frankly, at the time I was hurt and outraged. 

I would have preferred no gift at all.

What are Christmas gifts supposed to be about?

Was that the wrong reaction?

It was prompted firstly because I don't see Christmas gifts by family and friends as an expression of almsgiving (though given my own paid employment challenged and thus mortgage-stressed state...) but rather an expression of our interest, care and affection for each other.

It is not, in my view at least, contrary to what a new post on the ACBC media blog suggests, about whether we really need another bottle of wine or not (though a nice bottle for Christmas would certainly go down well, and my Amazon wishlist is quite long!), it is not about how much we have or don't have. 

And I'm certainly not advocating spending vast amounts of money on useless consumer goods. 

But choosing (or better still making) a gift that reflects our knowledge of the other's interests and concerns, however tokenistic, is a gesture of love. 

Of course, we often guess wrong, resulting in those appalling presents that we quickly discard!  Yet there can be something endearing even in a badly chosen gift I think.

While I suppose one could see a charity gift as such a misreading of the desires of the nominal donor, I'm afraid I'm far more inclined to view it rather as an attempt to assuage guilty consciences at consumerist lifestyles, rather than an act of love.

Choose your charity carefully!

The main reason for my outrage though, was at the presumption of acting in my name without my authorization. 

Personally, I want to be able to choose where the alms I do give go myself. 

I want to be sure that 'my' money isn't in practice being diverted to support vast bureaucracies, used to promote abortion, or otherwise fall subject to the ills to which certain types of aid organisations seem to be prone. 

And then there is the choice of cause.

I was actually pretty tempted to respond in kind this year by announcing that the siblings concerned had helped support a nice traditional monastery through my offering for a mass for their conversion (neither are catholics)...However, like giving a goat to a needy village, I think this is one of those areas where it is better to just do it, rather than to tell everyone that you have done it.

Almsgiving for Christmas

That is not to say of course that we shouldn't make an extra effort to give alms at Christmas time - of course we should.

I'd be happy (though retailers would not be!) to see a push from our bishops and the various charities saying spend less on Christmas presents and give to Vinnies or Medicines Sans Frontiers (to compensate for another relative refuses to support them on the grounds that they refuse to get involved with contraception), or some other suitable cause instead.

But my take on it is, ignore the cutesy marketing push, this commodification of charity, and do it in your own name, don't presume to do it on behalf of someone else.

Unless, of course, you are really sure it is want they want and are on board with the cause.

But am I being unfair or missing something?


A Canberra Observer said...

festina lente

I don't know your family situation but the gesture was it seems well intentioned. I do take your points about gift giving in general. The recipient shouldn't be a convenient proxy for another recipient ...

I want to digress slightly, and make a note that in some (hyper)orthodox circles and communities there is very little emphasis on this sort of practical charity (ie alms giving) with n'ary a mention of it (in pulpit or pew), and often in stark contradistinction to the average Catholic parish which does pay some attention to these things (eg Christmas St V de P drives etc). One might postulate that this is a danger of the cerebral fight for orthodoxy, either forgetting, or perhaps eschewing without distinction all the rump (and therefore associated though different from the liberal agenda) does.

Victoria said...

This will be the second year that I will be donating the money I would have spent on a gift for my daughter and son-in-law, to a charity. Last year, in their name I purchased 7 pair of underpants and 7 pair of socks for a homeless person and this year I donated to the East Africa famine in their name.

My daughter and son-in-law need or want no gift that I could afford to give and, with their permission, I donate my widow's mite to provide for people much, much more in temporal need than they are.

Joshua said...

Your article greatly amused me!

I chuckled especially because a rather overzealous do-gooder of my acquaintance did this for all his U.S. relatives - and they, despite being fairly 'liberal' themselves by Americans standards, were uniformly horrified!

Anthony S. Layne said...

I think I'd rather get coal in my stocking than a gift in my name to some charity I don't know jack about and had no say in picking. It would be even more insulting if it turned out to be some PAC or "worthy cause" completely anathema to me ... like a $100 donation to PETA. Fortunately, none of my relatives has had that kind of guilty consumerist conscience yet.

Schütz said...

Hi Kate.

Re church architecture, you might like to see "Felon Blames 1970s Church Architecture for Life of Sin: The Ironic Catholic News, Vol. I" (

Re whether Jesus and "greater than" the Father, the crucial text is, of course, John 14:28 "You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I kam going to the Father, for lthe Father is greater than I." I have always interpreted this to be in reference to his humanity, and this is the reason for our rejoicing - that as a human being, Jesus is "going to the Father", thus opening the doorway for all humanity to be "with the Father".

Re "Jews and Christians reading the Bible", I actually am planning to audit this course. I have been in a few sessions with Rabbi Morgan in the past, and found him to be a great teacher. Granted, it isn't Christianity that he teaches (one doesn't expect it!) but the Jews are, after all, reading the same text as us (your preference for the LXX over the Masoretic text not withstanding!), and that text has its own enduring power. I have always found that - mutatis mutandis - I have been able to learn something about my own Christian faith when I hear how the rabbis interpret the Old Testament. I will be very interested to see how the course turns out. I'll let you know!

Kate said...

Yes, as I suggested becuase human nature is by definition limited one can interpret that quote as a reference to in his humanity - though of course, now a human nature transformed by the Resurrection, and having in mind the hypostatic union as I noted (there are even technical terms for the distinction). But one cannot say the Father is always greater, because in his divinity they are equals.

I'd certainly be interested to see how the course plays out - I'm certainly not suggesting one can't learn something from such an exercize, but there are obvious dangers in it!