What Christmas Means to Me
I cannot believe another year has come and gone. I looked at the calendar and noticed the opportunity to write one more article before Christmas. I would typically move this article directly toward philanthropy at this point, but I have decided to wait for a moment to reflect. Growing up in West Virginia with a wonderful set of parents and three sisters, my earliest memory of Christmas was in the 1950s.
I had two working parents at that time, but can only remember about three Christmas gifts per child. I loved it because it was not about the number of gifts. It was about the fact that I received gifts. At an early age, I was more concerned about others receiving gifts than having presents. I was not into material things. I cared deeply about others, especially those less fortunate than me. I deeply loved Christmas day when our extended family would get together. Who can forget Uncle Wally’s annual bologna roll, the laughter and love shared by all?
Growing up, two specific Christmas events leap into my memory bank. One year, my father had secretly saved for months to buy a brand-new set of golf clubs. He did not tell a soul as that was going to be his special Christmas present to himself. Meanwhile, my mother also saved her pennies to buy my father the exact golf club set. Can you imagine what transpired on Christmas Eve when my mother took the new golf clubs to a secret closet only to find the exact set of golf clubs in that closet? I don’t remember if my father was hit by a flying golf club that year.
Another memory was when we lived in Indianapolis and our car gas line froze and could not start because the temperature was below zero. Our neighbors gave us a lift through the snow to Kentucky, where I rented a car to West Virginia. Imagine one car filled with eight people, a dog, numerous presents and barely enough room to breathe. None of us could see outside the frozen windows. It was a memorable Christmas to say the least.
Dan Harmon states that there are many Christmas meanings. Each person, young and old, develop their own meaning of Christmas as they grow and develop. Family traditions include the Christmas tree, tree ornaments, home decorations, Christmas movies, Santa Claus, cooking and the list goes on.
Christmas is also a time for giving and sharing with those around us. These include those we have never met and will never see, plus those less fortunate that could use a helping hand. It is also a time to introduce philanthropy to children by having them buy gifts for others and place money in a charitable bucket.
I attribute my long career in philanthropy and having a giving heart to my late mother. She was a saint and a very caring person. I can remember when we did not have excess funds, she would find a way to write checks in private to help others, such as children in need and disabled veterans. She was a wonderful cook and would constantly provide food to the hungry.
She would perform many acts of kindness to help anyone without fanfare. She set the example that it is always better to give than receive. It was never about her but about others. No one loved Christmas more than my mother. In fact, her basement was a shrine to Christmas as it stayed unchanged 365 days a year. She impacted my life, and I am forever grateful to such a wonderful role model.
In the last seven years, Christmas to me is all about The Salvation Army. Between October 15 and December 25 each year in Central Indiana, the following examples of activities are performed to benefit thousands at every age level:
- Coats for Kids. Approximately 3,000 children receive new or gently used coats, hats and scarves.
- Gifts of Warmth. Several hundred seniors receive items, such as blankets.
- Circle City Toy Run. Several hundred motorcycles bring toys, bikes and money to help hundreds of children.
- Senior Christmas Luncheon. Several hundred seniors receive a warm meal and gifts.
- Red Kettle Drive. One thousand volunteers ring bells to generate several hundred thousand dollars for the poor.
- Radiothon. This is a radio fund drive to raise $250,000, plus to meet children’s needs that includes free food and free shelter throughout the year for thousands.
- Angel Tree Program. Provides more than 7,000 children with toys, clothes, etc., totaling more than $100 for each needy child, so they can experience a Christmas morning. The children believe the gifts came from their parents.
These activities are held in addition to ongoing activities. The Salvation Army is truly an army consisting of officers, staff, volunteers, board members and the community to “do the most good” for those in need each day of the year. Working countless hours during the Christmas season with joy to help others is what Christmas means to me.
At the end of the day, the true meaning of Christmas means sharing ourselves with others and giving to others. As Dan Harmon notes, it is about remembering the past, sharing love and generosity with family.
I am blessed to work in a profession where I can watch thousands give their resources, while hundreds of thousands receive the benefit of this good will each year. Let’s strive to have the Christmas spirit in our hearts every day of the year and create lasting memories with our loved ones each Christmas!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.