- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

Whose birthday is it anyway?

Some well-meaning folks at www.simpleliving.org and other altruistic groups such as www.alternativegiving.blogspot.com are posing this essential question as the consumer-crazed media drive people into the malls and online to buy holiday gifts that most don’t need or can’t afford.

The alternative gift-giving trendsetters offer a simple suggestion to “buy a birthday gift for Jesus,” who cared to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and give water to the thirsty.

“In the true spirit of giving, more and more people are deciding to make a contribution ‘in honor of’ their loved ones this year,” says Lurma Rackley, spokeswoman for CARE International. “Rather than spend money on gifts friends and relatives may not want or need, people are taking a step to truly make the world a better place.”

Simple Living also lists donations that can be given in a loved one’s name to help build “a decent home for a rural family in Mississippi or food for victims of war.”

David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition, www.savedarfur.org, is selling green wristbands at a very low cost to help fund the advocacy group, which is lobbying national leaders to end the genocide in that war-torn country. Gift cards are also available to note a donation in a loved one’s name.

And, don’t forget, your time often can be more valuable than your money — all year, not just during the holidays.

LaShon Seastrunk, public information officer for the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, is seeking volunteers to work with teen detainees at the Mount Olivet and Oak Hill youth facilities. They just completed a fundraiser in which two “pods,” or units, of 10 young people were adopted by the Justice 4 DC Youth Coalition.

“We can never have enough volunteers; the holidays do pass and we are still in need of people to share positivity with our youth,” Ms. Seastrunk says.

She looks forward to her weekly lunches with teen girls, for example.

Want to help a local child stay warm for winter? The Edgewood Brookland Family Support Collaborative in Northeast Washington (202/832-9400) donates toys and clothing to families, but could use more coats and outerware for children and young people ages 5 to 21, said Amin H. Muslim.

Speaking of holidays, have you heard anything more ridiculous than this hullabaloo about whether to say “Merry Christmas,” “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays”?

Some Christians, it seems, have forgotten about tolerance. The reason to say any and all of the above is because “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” cover all the religious bases and honor the rites of all our friends, relations and neighbors.

No longer do we live in a country or a world that celebrates one religious holiday exclusively at a time.

Besides, it’s not what you say to bring good tidings of comfort and joy and peace on earth good will to all, it’s what you do. As my childless Aunt Lois, who raised me and Cuzin Kim, used to say, “Let my service speak for me.”

In other words, live your Christianity, don’t just make a show of it.

If you can get all twisted in tree lights and tinsel about what words folks should and should not say, then you really have lost the real meaning of “the reason for the season.”

This is the special time of the year when we, as Christians, are supposed to show the light of Christ in the world through our actions, among them tolerance and forgiveness.

Help me out with this one: Why is it that some of the same people who are upset about which is the proper season’s greeting are the same people who have canceled Christmas services because Dec. 25 falls on Sunday this year?

Canceling Christmas service on Sunday is like canceling Easter. I just don’t get it. You’d think that singing “Hosanna in the Highest” might be a little extra special on Sunday morning, wouldn’t you?

Wonder where a number of displaced Hurricane Katrina victims will spend the holidays? Democratic political maven Donna Brazile, who has relocated her entire family from New Orleans, is soliciting donations for victims through the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation Inc., www.louisianahelp.org.

A host of local folks, such as those at the All Nation’s Baptist Church in the District (202/832-9591) held a fundraiser for 80 Gulf Coast refugees but didn’t have enough gifts to go around to everyone, says organizer Lyndia Grant.

Kudos should go to Covenant Baptist Church in Southeast, which held a huge “Family Shower” in early December to give clothing, toys and gifts to 13 members of a three-generational family from New Orleans, now relocated to the Virginia suburbs.

And if you think help is needed only in the city, think again. SERVE Inc. in Northern Virginia (703/368-2004) also handed out countless toys for tots yesterday, but needs donations to pay for mounting utility bills, food and emergency bedding.

Last year, the homeless shelter and transitional housing group provided 18,000 bed nights for people in western Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park.

“The donations are down but there are huge increases in need,” says Lindy Garnette, executive director of SERVE. “Oil is up, propane is up, and everything is up.”

Everything is up but the donations that should be the perfect birthday present given in the “Love Thy Neighbor” Christian spirit of the holy holiday season.

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