12 Days of Christmas Giving

There are a large number of posts and articles circulating at this time of year, with gift guides for this, that, and the other person in your life. This is not one of those posts. Today we look at a different kind of giving: giving to those who actually need it.

Some traditions say the 12 Days of Christmas are those from the 25th of December to the 5th of January; others say the 26th of December to the 6th of January – aka Epiphany or Twelfth Night. You can choose either, or you can pretend to be a baker and have your “12” Days run from the 25th to the 6th.

Since this coming Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the fast that leads up to the feast of Christmas, this post could be construed as a little premature. But it never hurts to have time to mull over things. These days the “fast” of Advent seems to be more about the speed of the frenziedly busy days whizzing by, rather than abstaining from something.

(You’ve probably heard of the tradition of giving something up for Lent; perhaps we could consider choosing the least life-giving/most soul-destroying part of the December hustle and bustle and announce to the world that we have given it up for Advent.)

A post-it note stuck to a rough wall. In the glowing light it reads "To Do: Christmas"

But back to the 12 Days of Christmas Giving. The idea is that for each day, one chooses a charity to make a donation to. You might have favourite charities all lined up, or you might want to choose a number of charities working in an area you are passionate about. Or – and this is my personal favourite – you could actually choose Christmas-themed charities.

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So, if you’ve followed the last few weeks of fling-along, you are now standing knee-deep in a pile of stuff. Stuff that you have decided you don’t want in your house any more, but – what do you do with it?

Answer: exercise virtue. In this case, generosity.

Give it all away.

This is not to suggest that everything in your pile of stuff is fit to give. Deciding to get rid of something can have the sudden side effect of making you realize just how junky a piece of rubbish it is that you’ve been treasuring all these years. As Tove Jansson wrote in Moominland Midwinter, “Already it looked like something one wouldn’t even have the cheek to give away to a displaced hedgehog” – a displaced hedgehog being defined in the Author’s Note as “a hedgehog that has been removed from its home against its will and not even had the time to pack its toothbrush.”

hedgehog tubeBe generous to the earth: some things are best donated or otherwise charitably bestowed upon a recycle bin, rubbish bin, or compost bin. (No one else wants your lightly-used teabags.)

Now there are those who will tell you that giving doesn’t count as generosity until you’re giving what you actually want, or need – until it’s really costing you something. I say work your way up. Start with giving away the stuff you’ve already decided you don’t want; then move on to the stuff you wouldn’t mind keeping but to be honest won’t really miss. As you gradually train your subconscious into the pattern of giving, you will build up your generosity muscles to the point where you can give (up) something you really love, because someone else needs it more. Or because doing so will leave you freer to do something else. Or just to prove to yourself that you can, that you own it and not the other way around.

For generosity role-models, consider the mortally wounded Sir Philip Sidney, who gave his water to another wounded soldier.

Benjamin West - The Fatal Wounding of Sir Philip Sidney
Or St Francis of Assisi, who had to be put under oath to stop him giving the clothes off his back to those whose poverty was greater. Or, on a cheerier note, Bob, who gave Larry’s hairbrush to The Peach “because he has hair.” Except preferably don’t postpone your generosity until your deathbed (too long to wait). Nor until a singing dancing tomato gives things away for you (even longer to wait).

Just go for it – have a giving spree! No regrets – what you give, give freely and cheerfully. Once it’s out of your hands, let it out of your heart and mind as well. It’s not yours any more – not your thing, not your responsibility, not your problem. Enjoy yourself! Generosity really is one of those virtues which does as much good to the person exercising it as to those around them.

I regret to inform you that this concludes our regular programming for a while (though who knows what irregularities may crop up?) as we have just moved house and I must devote myself to unpacking, locating my desk and so forth. Don’t worry, I won’t be gone long, and when I return we will turn our attention to such interesting questions as the naming of houses and whether or not I am in fact Cruella de Vil. Au revoir!