By Gabriel Callaghan, Fourth Year Physics Student
Imagine that I am your friend and I am going to buy lots of tasty food to eat on your birthday, and make you watch me doing that whilst you receive nothing. That is exactly what the big companies want you to do to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Sounds absurd, right?
I am incensed by the TV adverts showing a fictitious family pretending they care about each other, despite having met each other hours ago. You must buy this particular brand of coffee, otherwise you are a ‘humbug’. Your friends will disown you if you do not buy canapés to eat together. You must say things to people whom you do not really care about – a single Christmas card seems alien, you didn’t care all year round to contact me. Surely, if I cared about someone, I would be constantly checking on them rather than pretending I care by sending a Christmas card once a year. Then there is the invention of ‘Santa Claus’ and his supposed elves. My chimney has never been cleaned for free and he doesn’t have a pilot’s licence to fly his reindeer in addition to flying drunk on brandy!
This generosity of spirit should occur all year round; it does not require Christmas speeches and it should not just involve begrudgingly giving a Christmas bonus to conform to social expectations.
But, humour aside, there is a very serious point to this. Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ still has a resounding resemblance to modern life. Scrooge loathes Christmas and he declined to provide a donation of food and heating for the poor. Yet, he provides his clerk, Bob Cratchit, Christmas Day off with some pay. This was not from the goodness of his heart – it was because he wanted to appear altruistic in social circles. Towards the end of the novel, a ghost showed Scrooge a neglected grave with his name on it. He sobbed and pledged to change his ways. Are we supposed to show compassion towards Scrooge and feel that he is a reformed character? I most certainly do not. It is because of his own ego and selfishness that he is sad. He wants to be a deity-like figure after his death, so people worship his ill-obtained wealth and status for eternity.
I believe that this is true today, to an even greater extent. Companies pretend to care about their staff, with the facade of mental health support because it is trendy at the moment. I see propaganda videos where employers talk about its importance, but I find it inappropriate that they have the authority to talk about this when people are on insecure contracts and they do not eradicate problematic management styles. People with mental health problems can be supported through stable working environments and being valued at work. This generosity of spirit should occur all year round; it does not require Christmas speeches and it should not just involve begrudgingly giving a Christmas bonus to conform to social expectations.
Charity is precisely for this love of your neighbour, not because of your standing in a peer group.
Then, there is the homelessness crisis. Charity sleepouts are a social occasion for the ‘dignitaries’. At Christmas, assisting the homeless is viewed as a fashionable thing to do in order to appear philanthropic. There are, however, some amazing people who are not doing this for status, but out of genuine love for their neighbour all year round. Charity is precisely for this love of your neighbour, not because of your standing in a peer group. Shockingly, there are several charity executives paid in excess of £100,000: the chief of an animal charity was paid £229,999 and the chief executive of one charity was paid above £180,000. This is not charitable at all. Surely if you really cared about the cause, you would be working for much more modest fees. Christmas is the ideal bandwagon for these people to jump on, obscuring their genuine motives. Like Scrooge, it is important to be seen to care, but not to actually be concerned for these people. We should use Christmas to illuminate these injustices in our society.
Finally, we have the people who are working on Christmas Day. Medication still needs to be delivered to the elderly and hospitals still have to operate. Lifeboat crews have to risk their lives every day… This is charity – not some media portrayal of it.
Genuine charity is rarely recognised. In this country, there are 376,000 young carers and no one really hears about them. They do this to help a friend or relative and never expect anything in return – most certainly not a six-figure salary. This Christmas, these young carers will be expected to do a huge amount, and these are the people whom I respect. Then, there are the volunteers in local communities carrying out a Christmas ‘meals on wheels’ service for the love of their neighbours. These volunteers help year-round with tasks such as fetching library books for people with disabilities. Finally, we have the people who are working on Christmas Day. Medication still needs to be delivered to the elderly and hospitals still have to operate. Lifeboat crews have to risk their lives every day. I know what it is like to have Christmas dinner suddenly interrupted when one of your parents has to go to work. This is charity – not some media portrayal of it.
I believe that fake charities prey on the vulnerable at Christmas. They try to guilt-trip people and force them to donate, with the elderly being the most common victims of these demands for money. Charity fundraisers are employed on commission – it is seen as a job rather than a vocation. I remember on holiday in Virginia, a woman was paralysed after a car crash; the locals organised a fundraiser with bluegrass bands, sports cars and even with the sheriff put something on – no one was paid for doing this. Genuine charities will not pressure people to donate but will follow the teaching in The Widow’s Offering in Luke’s Gospel, where contribution of the widow was small in magnitude, but the greatest in spirit. The teaching in Matthew 10:8 is also quite appropriate to Scrooge, ‘heal the sick……freely you received, freely give’. Charity is not about money – it is about spirit, which I believe is missing from Christmas.