Tuesday, 23 December 2008


“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” - William James

We went out to a shopping centre today and I must say it definitely felt like Christmas. Although the decorations were more restrained this year, although the shops were less busy, although there was a palpable reduction in the money being spent for gifts and luxuries, despite everything, people were still around and they were still doing their Christmas shopping. A Salvation Army band was playing Christmas carols and collecting money for those in need. A big bin was outside the department store inviting people to contribute gifts for children of poor families who would otherwise not have a gift. A local church group further down the mall was collecting coins to be used for providing a meal for the homeless on Christmas day and another table was full of photographs of third world country kids that needed a sponsor.

Perhaps this year, more than previous ones, people will realise what Christmas is all about. We shall see things more clearly the real meaning of Christmas as the economy is going downhill and the financial climate is worsening. People will surely see beyond the glitter of the tinsel and listen to voices in need beyond the piped carols of the elevator. As our own financial security is threatened we will perhaps feel a little more compassion for those who are even less fortunate than us. The poorer amongst us are often more generous than those of us who are well off. Someone who has little will paradoxically be more likely to share it with someone in greater need than them…

We have several welfare and community service in our neigbourhood. We often visit and provide some assistance, whether it is financial or some kind of volunteer work. A very special place is an old people’s home nearby where each Christmas a special kind of tragedy is played out. Several forgotten elderly people sit listlessly and watch with empty eyes the flashing light of a scraggly Christmas tree by a window, knowing full well they will not glimpse a sign of a loved one coming in to visit them. How many heavy hearts, extinguished eyes and hopeless souls will spend another Christmas battling with memories of happy Christmases past, while the well-wishing staff dole out a “festive meal” for them on yet another sad and lonely Christmas day. And in the meantime, the carols are playing on the PA system throughout the nursing home, contributing to the cheery holiday mood.

What is the true meaning of Christmas and how can we come to understand it? Simple. Visit someone you don’t know and take them a little something this Christmas – nothing much, just a token for your thought for that stranger, who nevertheless is a fellow human being. Someone you have never seen before, in a nursing home, a prison, an orphanage, a mental hospital. The rejects of our society, those people that the grand machine has chewed on and has spat out. Even more than what you take to them, give them a gift of some of your time. Sit and talk with them, share a conversation, small talk, a pleasantry. Clasp their hand and give them a gift of hope. Hope that the world still has some decency and compassion and care and fellow feeling. Charity is more than giving an odd coin now and then to the man shaking a can at you in the mall. It’s even more than signing a big cheque for your favourite charity organisation every year. Charity is humanity and sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others, with a genuine attempt to try and alleviate that suffering in a palpable, real way.

The hand extended toward you is not always begging for money, it may only want to be clasped and held for a while, with your heart open and your ears unstopped.

Have a peaceful and loving Christmas!

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