A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: Spread Holiday Cheer
Giving gifts and helping the poor are holiday traditions, but few people realize just how long these traditions have been around. Roman pagans exchanged gifts as they celebrated the feast of Saturnalia at the beginning of winter. Ancient societies supported widows and orphans, and in the Middle Ages distributing alms to the needy was a recognized duty of the wealthy. By the Victorian era, when many modern Christmas traditions began, it was customary to give gifts to the poor on Boxing Day – the day after Christmas.
Historians disagree on the origins of the term “Boxing Day.” Lords traditionally distributed supplies for the new year on the day after Christmas, and often included special treats in the supply boxes. Churches also broke open the Christmas alms boxes on Boxing Day. Charles Dickens advised that in the “spirit of sharing,” postmen, errand boys, snow clearers and servants should receive “a box of contributions from those whom they serve.” While Boxing Day has evolved into a day for sports like football and marathon shopping, it retains its charitable spirit.
Americans don’t celebrate Boxing Day, but we do mark tax day, and therefore, year-end charitable giving is a tradition here as well. Locally, there are many opportunities to give. Begin close to home with a gift card to CVS or a grocery store for someone you know is struggling. Support the efforts at your place of worship with the gift of time. Participate in a charity race for Life Rolls On. Ticket sales only cover about half the cost of a production at Cape May Stage – consider their annual giving campaign. Support Cape May’s Victorian preservation efforts with a donation to MAC’s Legacy Fund. Become a member of NJ Audubon and support the Nature Center. Or visit the Nature Center’s website and check out their wish list to see how you can support this vital center for environmental education as it grows to meet the increasing demands of our community. Sometimes you can give a gift that doubles as a donation – support Cape May County’s food banks with “Have a Heart for Hunger” ornaments, available at Flying Fish for $15. And if your pet charity is pets, consider Animal Outreach. Still having trouble deciding where to give? Ask three of your Cape May friends who they support and you are sure to find a worthy recipient. Sadly, there is no shortage of need.
As American playwright Thornton Wilder said, ”Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.” Don’t be full of manure – spread it around a little.
Next week: Ring in the New Year