In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens confronts a terror- stricken Scrooge with a vision of a dark future of gloom, alienation, and a lonely death that no one grieves:
”Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, ”I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.”
And as we all know, Dickens allows Scrooge to recognize his evil ways and to exchange his miserly and miserable life for one of love and care for his family and fellow men.
In thinking of the upcoming holiday season–and we already see the commercialization and it’s not even Thanksgiving–we are reminded daily that far too many men and women are not going to work, families are losing their homes, children are going hungry, and the elderly have to decide whether to eat or pay for their expensive medicine.
In our own period of uncertainty, need, and anxiety, how will we “celebrate” the season that is supposed to be one of love and peace. No matter what your religious belief, the Christmas season has always been one of celebration, good cheer, and gift giving.
But with wallets thin and paychecks slim, perhaps we can find a new way this year to extend our hands to one another in practical and giving ways.
In our own small manner, perhaps we can start by avoiding some of the tinsel that comes out of those giant factories in Asia that have already kicked into high gear to provide us with ever more merchandise we don’t really need to live a meaningful life. And as we know, this merchandise is being produced at the expense of American labor.
This year can indeed be different. This year Americans can give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans.
Before we start handing over our already burdened credit cards for toys and more bling, maybe those limited bucks would bring more joy and satisfaction if they were spent feeding and clothing needy folk in homeless shelters. If you’re short on cash, give some of your time. Collect groceries for the many food banks and visit the “No Kid Hungry” pledge page to ease hunger a bit in our own country. Help those hard-working and much maligned teachers by clicking on the “Donors Choose” program, the on-line charity allowing one to donate dollars for many classroom essentials that teachers dip into their own pockets to pay for themselves. So many good causes out there that are doing so much good but are also so underfunded.
A friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail with many good suggestions which I am happy to share with you.
Before we start, though, we first have to get over the nonsense that nothing of worth can be found that is produced by American hands. I think we all know that myth is simply not true. It’s time to think outside the proverbial gift box. Besides, who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, tucked in Chinese produced wrapping paper?
Everyone — yes everyone–gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local hair salon or barber?
Gym membership? It’s appropriate for all ages who are thinking about general fitness and overall health.
Who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, American owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates.
Are you one of those extravagant givers who thinks nothing of plunking down the big bucks on a Chinese-made flat-screen? Instead, how about something different. Perhaps that grateful person on your list would like his driveway sealed or plowed all winter. How about a cord of wood for a shut-it or lawn service for the summer. How about some outings at the local golf course. Besides, what’s the point of getting the latest HD TV with 300 cable TV channels when most of the programming is mindless drivel. Let’s get off our duffs which is good for the body and spirit and quit sitting around watching soaps and talking heads.
And who doesn’t like to go out to eat once in a while. There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants — all offering gift certificates. And, if your main squeeze isn’t the fancy eatery sort, what about a half dozen early morning treats at the local breakfast joint. Remember, folks, this isn’t about big National chains — this is about supporting your home-town American neighbors who have their financial lives on the line. You’ll be helping them keep their doors open.
How many people couldn’t use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle done at a shop run by the American working guy?
Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? I’m sure that special woman would love the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.
Shop at your local thrift stores where the money they make is given to worthy local causes.
In writing this, I’m reminded that my computer could use a tune-up, and I know I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.
OK, you were looking for something more personal. Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves. They make jewelry and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.
Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated places of entertainment and restaurants. And be sure to leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre. We musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.
And don’t forget to leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice big tip.
Christmas can be an opportunity to encourage American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we can’t imagine.
This can be the new American Christmas tradition. Put it on your Facebook page, forward it to everyone on your mailing list, post it to discussion groups, create a blog, and send it to the editor of your local paper and radio stations and TV news departments. This is a revolution of caring about each other.
Ebenezer Scrooge saw the light and did something about it. The rest of us can, too!