It's the week of Christmas, and I'm in the mood once again to write about one of my favorite Christmas themes: Generosity.
The idea of gift-giving at Christmas is a long-standing one that is shared among Christian communities around the world, although it manifests itself in many ways.
(But before I continue with this Christmas theme, let me note for regular readers of my nature column that I'm also posting some December in Alabama birding photos in the attached photo gallery, including a rare bird for Alabama -- the Eurasian Wigeon -- and one of the rarest and endangered birds for the U.S. -- the Whooping Crane. Now back to this week's theme of generosity.)
As I have written before, in the United States and United Kingdom, gifts are usually placed under the tree and in stockings "hung by the chimney with care." In the Netherlands, children leave a shoe by the fireplace. In Brazil, they leave a sock by the window.
The gift-giver also changes around the world. In the Netherlands, children call him Sinterklass. In many European countries, he is likely to be either Father Christmas or St. Nicholas. In Costa Rica, the gift bringer is sometimes the "Niño Dios" (Child God). In Christian homes in Egypt, Baba Noel climbs through windows, not down chimneys, to bring gifts to children. (Sounds much more practical than chimneys.) In France, it's Pere Noel; in Denmark, "Julemanden" (Christmas Old Man); in Brazil, Papai Noel.
In Australia, the method of delivery for children's gifts takes a special turn, as Santa exchanges his reindeer for six white kangaroos to pull his sleigh! Aussies even have a Christmas song, "Six White Boomers" -- a nickname for large male kangaroos.
But regardless of where gifts are left, or what the gift bringer is called, or even who pulls the sleigh, the concept of generosity is virtually synonymous with Christmas around the world.
That's a good and natural thing, because Christ was all about generosity, especially for the poor and downtrodden.
I urge readers to honor that tradition by extending it not just to family members and children, but also through generosity to others in their communities.
Charities abound, and it is easy to get turned off by the aggressive fund-raising techniques a few use. I, for one, refuse to stay on the line with telephone marketers, even if they are calling for a charity I support. I know that a big percentage of anything I would give would go to the professional marketers, so I do not give that way.
But that should not stop you from giving to worthwhile charities. Just do it directly, not through a marketing company. It is important to remember that the best charities provide a tremendous service by helping those in need in our communities.
Here are a few of my favorites in the Montgomery area:
-- The River Region United Way. As an umbrella agency that helps more than 40 other charitable agencies, the United Way fills a special niche in the community. Without the United Way, some of these agencies would struggle to exist.
The River Region United Way campaign raises funds to provide a wide range of services to more than 140,000 people in five counties -- Montgomery, Autauga, Elmore, Lowndes and Macon. The RRUW helps the elderly, the poor, those with addictions, the mentally ill and those with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. It also serves children through a variety of programs -- Child Protect, the Children's Center, Camp ASCCA, Gift of Life, YMCA youth programs, and others.
You can give a gift by going online to the River Region United Way website or by mailing a check to the River Region United Way, P.O. Box 868, Montgomery AL 36101.
-- The Family Sunshine Center. The center assists victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. It provides advocacy, counseling, a 24-hour hotline and school-based and other prevention programs. It also provides a safe shelter for women and children who are victims of abuse. It is truly a life-saving organization.
You can donate online at the Family Sunshine Center website or mail a check to: Family Sunshine Center, P.O. Box 5160, Montgomery AL 36103-5160.
-- The Montgomery Area Council on Aging. MACOA's Meals on Wheels program is a lifesaver for many elderly and handicapped individuals. I know firsthand; I have been a volunteer driver for about eight years. Each Monday through Friday, volunteers deliver hundreds of meals to homebound seniors who cannot cook for themselves. Meals on Wheels does yeoman's work, but there is still a waiting list of several hundred who need its services.
-- The Christmas Clearing House. The agency annually helps about 10,000 individuals in the River Region -- including more than 8,000 children. The Christmas Clearinghouse keeps registered individuals from being overlooked and works to ensure that all donations are used wisely.
You can donate online at the Christmas Clearing House website or by mailing a check to Hands On River Region, 101 Coliseum Boulevard, Montgomery AL 36109.
Those are just a small sampling of the many agencies that help those in need in our community. Similar organizations can be found in almost every region of the state.
I hope that in the spirit of generosity that manifests itself at Christmas, those of us who are able will take a moment to write a check to help others in our communities who are less fortunate than us.
I believe in the sentiment expressed by the adage, "Charity begins at home." Our first responsibility should be to support our families. But a key to that phrase, I believe, is the word "begins." The clear message is that charity should not end at home.
Ken Hare is a longtime newspaper editorial page editor and editorial writer who now writes a regular nature column for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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