As "the holidays" (defined in cultural/secular terms) approach, our thoughts naturally turn to gift-giving. It's a respectable turn, even if we tend thereby to get sucked into the vortex of consumerism and excess. Giving is at the heart of the Christian life, and if it takes secular seasons to bring that to mind, well -- it's too bad, but "what is not against me is for me," I guess.
This year, consumer purchases will likely be down (except perhaps in my extended family), and I fear that donations to charitably organizations will be, too. So I urge you to resist Satan's temptation to be "mean" (as the older English would put it). And to that end I draw your attention to a few of my favorite opportunities to give which can result in the multiplying of your generosity.
First: At secular Thanksgiving, it is our congregation's practice to collect canned goods (and other non-perishables) for food shelves. A better idea is to give money to the food shelves. They are being tapped as never before, and many of them have remarkably (and troubling) bare shelves. Giving them food to stock is one idea, and I don't oppose it especially. But the food shelf managers can take a $20 contribution and (because they can buy wholesale, I suppose) turn it into about a $100 worth of food, I am told. Consider a sizable contribution of money to food shelves.
Second: It is possible to give in ways that don't cost money. One discipline I am developing is to go to the Hunger-Site related websites and clicking so that organizations give food to food shelves, mammograms to poor women, food to pet shelters, books to poor kids, and space for tree growth. Simply go here, and you'll be able to click to give a donation (it's free to you: sponsors pay "per hit") for mammograms. Then hit each of the tabs toward the top of the page and give to the other causes. It takes a minute and it really does accomplish some good.
Third: Give to the social-service agencies of your church (Lutheran World Relief, for example). They accomplish a lot of good with a minimum of overhead expense.
Fourth: Give to the United Nations directly. Go here for instructions on how you can donate directly to the Emergency Relief Fund. We have all seen news and heard stories of the extent to which the UN is strapped for cash to ameliorate the ills of humanitarian and natural disasters. Lamentably, nations (including our own) do not fulfill the promise and charter of their membership in the UN.
Finally: We have taken to giving contributions in the names of our friends in lieu of giving "stuff" to people who already have everything they need. Our favorite means to do so is the Heifer Project. Talk about gifts that keep on giving.
Of course, you may have your own pet projects (Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center -- you get a very nice card from Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter every year if you do, your own congregation's efforts for helping others). The point is to recognize that difficult economic times (and usually even robust economic times) are one way Satan has of turning us from our duty and privilege to live lives of self-giving on the model of our Lord.
Thanksgiving may be a civic holiday and Christmas may have been hijacked by the Grinch of Consumerism, but we Christians can reclaim eucharist (= thanksgiving in Greek) and the mystery of the Incarnation by celebrating in proper ways. Spend time in Church and spend money on gifts of assistance to those who share with us the imago dei.