It never failed.
I would receive mountains of canned goods, dry goods, and cash from well-meaning donors before Christmas (always accompanied by copious amounts of cranberry jelly), but the season inevitably came:
The Giving Hangover.
Call it the Winter Blues, or the Post-Christmas Slump, or whatever, giving always dropped at the food bank after New Years’ and often lasted until February, sometimes even into March. People had credit card bills to pay; people had higher utility bills to pay; people were struggling with the short days and long, dark nights. If I didn’t prepare for the Hangover before Christmas, the shelves would be empty and rationing would start.
In my experience, however, it’s harder for people to give during January and February not only because of personal financial circumstances but because it’s often just too hard to keep looking at our world’s pain.
We want to teach our children compassion and generosity, but after Christmas doesn’t it often feel like enough is enough?
Too much is too much? There has been one too many list-bid efforts to garner donations from us so we can get charitable tax receipts; too many groups with immediate needs; and too much demanded from us. We need to catch our collective breath and take a break. Too many hungry people, too many homeless people, and certainly way too much rhetoric about any group of people.
Inevitably, I would have parents and schoolteachers wanting their children and students to participate in tours or food drives or as volunteers so everyone could learn about the need for giving. While it’s a noble sentiment and I want kids to learn about equitable distribution within community, these lessons can be taught at any time of the year.
In fact, there were many times I could have used extra hands during the Giving Hangover, but all those families from before Christmas were now unavailable after the fact.
The thing of it is, our seasonal giving is related far more to the charity model than a justice model. It relies on our moods and inspirations rather than a solid understanding of what is needed, when, and why. The need for equitable distribution of food never dries up. That’s all the more reason to start engaging the impacts of our giving habits.
I’m not here to tell you to stop giving to your organizations of choice. What I am proposing is that if we begin to shift our giving habits from a seasonal charity focus towards a justice focus, we can have a hand in strengthening the mission and longevity of these organizations. Why? Because needed donations (monetary and in-kind) enter the scene when they are needed, rather than when we feel good about distributing them.
Not only that, but we can weather the darkness of the world better, with fewer peaks and troughs. Kids don’t need Santa Claus to tell them about justice and mercy. Nor do we. If we want to make donations in someone’s name as a Christmas present, that can easily be done in July as it can in December.
By partnering with our organizations through knowledge of what is needed throughout the year, not only are the NPOs better supported but our Giving Hangover is less powerful.
But this shift takes time, planning, and investment in the places we support. Sometimes that sounds like too much to ask. And, if I’m honest, there are times and places for charity. Yet my hunch is that by being more intentional about our approaches to giving, the giving that does happen at Christmas will seem less of a burden during the holidays, and will pave the season with empowerment.
My name is Erin Thomas and I’m a Candidate for Ordination at Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon.
For breakfast today, I had a piece of toast with peanut butter, a banana, and a handful of raw almonds.