Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas, Santa, and the Spirit of Giving

Warmest Christmas greetings to friends of the Blog who rejoice and remember the birth of Jesus Christ.

And to all who have received or freely given help for the sheer joy of it! Literal believers or not, we all - if we are human - know the pleasure of helping others, particularly when we don't have to.

Perhaps the most famous editorial in the history of newspapers appeared in the New York Sun 110 years ago:

Virginia, your little friends [who say say there is no Santa Claus] are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. ... The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. ... Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

The full text of the editorial is available at:

Ogden Nash captured the folly of disbelief in the spirit of giving in his famous poem The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus. Jabez Dawes makes a startling claim:

'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'...

'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'...

No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,...

From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,...

All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.

The full text of the poem is available at:

Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for charity, rooted in justice and righteousness. Maimonides suggested a hierarchy of tzedakah, where the highest ideal is to offer a fellow human what we would call "a hand up" - giving him or her what is necessary to become independent and self-supporting. That could be education, a job, a business partnership or a loan - anything that helps without shaming the recipient.

How to give tzedakah? If possible, it is best when the giver does not know the recipient and vice-versa. At a lower level, the giver is anonymous but knows the recipient. At the next lower level, the recipient knows the giver but but the recipient is anonymous. At a still lower level, the giver and recipient know each other, but the gift is offered without being requested. Finally, there is the gift given after being requested.

Ira Glickstein

1 comment:

Stu Denenberg said...

Ira's ruminations on generosity reminds me of it's importance in Buddhism as well as in Christianity and Judaism.

Generosity is promoted within Buddhism not only because it makes us happy and fulfilled and it's the right thing to do but as a practical strategy for diminishing those aspects of our ego that do the most harm. In "Mindfulness in Plain English", Gunaratana notes that, "Greed and hatred are the prime manifestations of the ego process." and goes to say that, "Giving is the opposite of greed and Benevolence is the opposite of hatred."

So as antiauthoritarian as I am, it's hard to disagree with an insight that three major spiritual traditions have agreed upon.

Happy Holidays,