This week's edition of the Irish Catholic contains a coruscating attack upon me.
Well, not so much, but there is a letter in response to this letter of mine that was printed in the same newspaper before Christmas:
Dear Editor, Elaine Ryan, in her Life’s Little Things column (6/12/12) very sensibly laments the excess associated with children’s birthday parties today.
However, when she recommends Oxfam’s Pass the Parcel scheme in which “birthday presents are foregone and charitable donations made in lieu”, I feel misgivings - the same misgivings I feel when I hear radio ads urging listeners to give donations to charity as Christmas gifts. In the case of a child being told to give a donation rather than getting a gift, I think this could lead to the child associating charitable giving with austerity, disappointment and even resentment.
And as for “donation-gifts” in general, there seems something rather ostentatious and self-congratulatory about this, overlooking our Lord’s injunction that our left hand should not know what our right is doing when we give alms.
But my misgivings go even deeper. Like most people, I suppose, my childhood memories of receiving Christmas and birthday gifts are amongst my most magical and enchanted. If this had been simply a case of childish greed gratified, I don’t think these memories would glow in the way that they do.
No, we cherish the memory of childhood gifts because they came with love, they were personal to us, and they were an unearned surprise.
To be a Christian is to accept life as such a gift, and I think childhood Christmas and birthday gifts (which need not be extravagant) are a school in this philosophy.
Of course we should give to charity, and of course we should encourage children to be generous.
But I wonder if making a charitable donation as a gift to someone else is not rather contrary to the spirit of both charity and gift-giving?
Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh,
Today this reply appeared from a lady in Kilkenny:
Dear Editor, Re Maolsheachlann O’Ceallaigh's letter of December 20 last about having misgivings when he hears advertisements (radio and TV) urging listeners to give donations to charity as Christmas presents, I have a contrary view. He goes back to childhood memories of receiving Christmas and birthday gifts. That was then. This is now - a very changed world from an economic, cultural, political, educational, environmental (earthquakes, hurricanes), ethnic and social point of view. The 900m hungry people and countless hungry, mistreated animals in the world, need charity donations. Think of the improved livelihood of thousands of people in Africa because of charity donations made through Bothar and Trócaire, to take two examples. Other examples of beneficiaries are the ISPCA and the Donkey Sanctuary which have more animals - God's non-human creatures - than they can adequately care for.
Children need to be reminded of whose birthday it is - the birth of Jesus, so that they don't become the preoccupation. A gift given to somebody else on their behalf is more meaningful, strikes a balance and helps to prevent them from becoming greedy.
Ultimately, refreshing the joy, which waned during the year, is the true gift of Christmas.
WHAT?!? Who dares to question my infinite wisdom? It makes me SO MAD!!!!!!!