Last night we watched "An American Christmas Carol" starring Henry Winkler. This Jerome Coopersmith adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is set in 1933 in Concord, New Hampshire, during the Great Depression. On the day before Christmas, Benedict Slade (the more modern day Scrooge) sets out with his employee Thatcher (the Cratchit character), to repossess the items townspeople bought with money borrowed from Slade. There is a nice twist with the three spirits who visit him, all of whom bear a striking resemblance to people he visited earlier in the day; and, in the end, Ben learns his lesson and sets out to change his life by changing the lives of those around him for the better. The movie is a vivid reminder that Christmas is more than a one-day-a-year holiday...or at least, it should be.
No matter what holidays you celebrate this time of the year, it is a joyous season for most people. Shoppers are busy buying decorations, special foods for their celebrations, and gifts for family and friends. Lighted Hanukkah menorahs and Christmas lights appear in windows, and Christmas carols play in stores, on radios, and on TV, both in programs themselves and in commercials. In addition to white and colored lights, stores and houses are dressed in holiday finery and boast special displays, there are special programs on TV, people make travel plans to visit loved ones who live at a distance, and diets are thrown out the window until after the first of the year. It's a special season of giving, of sharing, of love and laughter and hope...but not for everyone.
There are many people who will spend the holiday season in homeless shelters, or worse...trying to survive the elements outdoors. Others will spend the holidays alone--some in their own homes, some in nursing homes, hospitals, or other institutions. Service organizations such as the United Way and Salvation Army, and local churches, strive to reach out to bring some joy and comfort to them; but many will fall through the cracks. For them, the holidays are a bleak reminder of what they lack--family, friends, companionship, physical necessities and comforts, and the inability to provide these things for themselves. And it's not just the human population that is in need. Many homeless animals will spend their holidays not curled up on the rug with a loving human to care for them, but in a cage in a shelter.
There are numerous opportunities to give to others this time of year, and many people do. But the needs continue year-round. When you reach out to help in December, why not make a commitment, like Benedict Slade and Ebenezer Scrooge, to continue your giving throughout the coming year? Even small monthly donations can go a long way if those donations are pooled together. If you're looking for a way to help others this season, here are a few suggestions.
Donations can be made to the following. For national organizations, you can usually find a local chapter on their websites:
local food banks and soup kitchens
local homeless shelters
local battered women's shelters
local crisis pregnancy centers
And for animals in need:
http://www.humanesociety.org/ or your local humane society
http://www.pawswithacause.org/ - trains hearing and service dogs for people with disabilities
http://www.nsalamerica.org/ - North Shore Animal League, the world's largest no-kill shelter
These are just a few ways you can reach out and enrich the lives of others. And in doing so, you will find that your own holiday celebration, indeed your life, will be enriched as well. As Scrooge said, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." What a difference it would make in our world if we all did the same.