--by Mike Murray
It is customary the world over to exchange gifts this time of year. Some people purchase them, others make them. Offerings run the gamut: toys, clothing, jewelry – all find their way into hopeful hands.
While I am appreciative of the sentiment that Dr. Suess expressed through his Grinch cartoon character (that “maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store”), I see nothing wrong in shopping for family and friends. Purchased gifts, thoughtfully selected, can be truly touching.
Store-bought gifts can also be godsends to those in need. Items bought for distribution to the distressed are sometimes the only presents they will receive. Such purchases provide poor children with joy, destitute adults with relief, rescued animals with sustenance. They represent the very best in holiday giving.
Then too, store purchases benefit millions of employees. Absent a seasonal boost in consumer spending, merchants would suffer financially. And many would subsequently be forced to furlough scores of workers – workers who would be left to scramble to find alternative means of supporting their families.
And then there’s the Multiplier Effect. Much of the money spent by shoppers is distributed as salary to employees – who re-spend it on food, clothing, rent, utilities, entertainment, and so on. People employed by those industries continue the cycle, by re-spending the money on other goods and services. It goes on and on. Distribution turns into redistribution. A dollar put into circulation finds its way into many hands, and employs legions of people. It is the power behind the catch-phrase “stimulating the economy.”
When the process is reversed, however (that is, when spending dries up), the Multiplier Effect works to societies’ disadvantage. Economies slow, become stagnant, and can spiral downward into recessions. Stock prices plummet; personal savings evaporate. When things hit rock bottom, whole industries collapse; banks fail; stock markets crash. And full-blown depressions result.
And so, with all due respect to Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Suess) I contend that, in many ways, Christmas really does come from a store. Charles Dickens certainly thought so. The lesson he has taught generations – through his Ebenezer Scrooge character in A Christmas Carol – is, after all, precisely that: purse strings are meant to be loosened. So long as people exercise restraint, so long as they resist the temptation to exceed their means, spending money in order to express affection for others (and to assist the needy) is a very good thing.
Still, most of us appreciate the point that Geisel was trying to make: That obsessively coveting material things runs counter to the holiday spirit. Most of us do not want for the necessities of life. We have roofs over our heads, we have clothes to wear, we have food to eat. And if, Geisel reminded us, we are additionally fortunate enough to have “hands to clasp,” we are truly blessed. Trinkets can be delightful things. But they pale in comparison to life’s most precious gifts.
Theodor Geisel, Charles Dickens, and countless religious and spiritual leaders all have expressed the same sentiment: that it is better (and ultimately more satisfying) to give than to receive. It requires the passage of time, the attainment of maturity, for many people to be so enlightened. But most eventually are.
Store-bought gifts bring smiles to grateful recipients They also provide gainful employment to millions of employees. And monetary (and in-kind) contributions to charities ease suffering – and enable cash-strapped non-profits to continue their good works.
But not everyone has money to spend. Even for those of modest means, however, giving is possible. It is the poignant message contained within The Little Drummer Boy. The poor child featured in the Christmas carol searched his soul -- and found wonderful things to give: his time, his talent, his devotion.
Most of us have something to offer. If we lack the financial ability to purchase gifts, we can make them instead. If we cannot afford to donate to not-for-profit organizations, we can serve as volunteers. As did the Little Drummer Boy, most people can find a little something to give. It is heartwarming to see that so many do during this special season.
Copyright © 2008 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.