“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” - E. B. White
It’s Christmas Day and there is always time today to sit and reflect a little. It is a time for family, feasting and gift giving – a time for peace and togetherness and of spirituality. Yet even in our contentment, our minds should have charitable thoughts for those who are not able to celebrate as well as we are able to. There are many hotbeds of violence and warfare across the globe and the economic crisis still claims victims in many countries of the world. Extremes of climate and foul weather have made many people miserable on what should have been a happy day. This year, tens of thousands of Britons remain without electricity on Christmas Day after torrential rainfall flooded homes and hurricane-force winds battered the country.
Christmas in Australia tends to be a very relaxed time. It is usually hot across all of the continent and this means the holiday is celebrated out of doors. Barbeques, garden dining, Christmas by the beach and fun in the sun is what Christmas means to most Australians. However, we also have a problem with the homeless and the disadvantaged even here in the “lucky country”. Charity organisations do much to relieve the plight of beggars, homeless, the impoverished, the mentally unstable and the abused. The Salvation Army is the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia, and a report reveals that the Salvos helped 22,594 homeless people in the six months to December 31 last year. Furthermore, Australia-wide this Christmas the Salvation Army expects to assist more than 300,000 people during the Christmas period (this being double what is seen on average per month during the year). They will distribute nearly 500,000 toys to families in need; feed Christmas Lunch to over 14,000 people; distribute 100,000 food vouchers and hampers. You can donate to the Salvos here.
The plight of refugees is a worldwide issue currently and perhaps Australia does not have a very good record in terms of assistance to refugees. Many Australians view refugees unkindly as they regard them as “queue jumpers”, economic refugees, illegal immigrants. However, it is dangerous to tar all refugees with the same brush, as there are many who are people in genuine need and who face survival problems if they stay in their own country. Many of these refugees will be in mortal danger if they stay put because of civil unrest, warfare, political upheavals or problems of ideological conflict.
Australia for UNHCR is an Australian charity that raises funds to support the work of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Australia. The aim of this organisation is to help Australians change the lives of refugees and displaced people around the world. As well as providing emergency relief like shelter, food, water, and medical care, the generous supporters improve refugees’ future opportunities, providing infrastructure, schools, and income generating projects. Monthly donors also provide vital funding for UNHCR’s Emergency Response Teams who are on the ground saving lives within 72 hours, whenever and wherever crisis strikes. Australia for UNHCR donations can be made here.
I cannot help but think of the plight of many people in Southern Europe – Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal who are facing enormous economic problems. With youth unemployment close to 50% in some cases, draconian austerity measures in place, and many years of problems with negative economic development, have left many people desperate – so desperate that the only solution they see is suicide. Suicides increased by 45 percent during the first four years of Greece’s financial crisis, a mental health aid group recently stated that there are indications of a further “very large rise” over the past two years. The Athens-based group Klimaka said officially reported suicides rose steadily, accounting for an annual jump in deaths from 328 in 2007 to 477 in 2011, according to data from the Greek Statistical Authority. The group said, based on its own research, the number of suicides has continued to rise through 2012 and 2013. It should be kept in mind the official suicide rate in Greece is lower than the actual as there is still considerable stigma attached to suicide.
Every so often a dramatic act of despair catches the country’s imagination. In spring last year a 77-year-old retired pharmacist shot himself in the head in the central square of Athens, leaving a note saying that he could not bear the idea of “scavenging in dustbins for food and becoming a burden to my child...” And anybody who knows Greece well can probably think of at least one acquaintance whose death was prompted, entirely or in part, by financial desperation.
Christmas is a special time of the year. For children especially, it should be a happy, magical, bright and peaceful time. Yet how many children the world over not only will not have gifts this Christmas, but also will go hungry? Millions of children are poor; they lack access to safe drinking water, essential vaccines, education and nutrition; they are at risk of being exploited and abused. You can make a difference by becoming involved locally, but also donating to help children further afield. The crisis in Syria for example claims many innocent children daily. Save the Children is an organisation that does very good work and you can help here.
Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy the time with your family and friends. If you can, help make someone else’s Christmas happy too.