Giving at the last minute

If it’s not too late for last-minute shopping, neither is it too late for last-minute giving, as this commentary from nascent days of the island’s Christmas Fund reminds. (To that end, the address: The Katy Warner Christmas Fund, PO Box 10354, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. Merry Christmas!)

* * * * *

Nobody was sure that Dec. 25 was His birthday. Whatever birth records the Bethlehem branch of the Roman Empire was keeping seem somehow to have been lost in the 1955-year shuffle since that time. What’s more, it is highly doubtful if those three astronomically minded erudite gentlemen ever had seen an evergreen tree.

So who should be offended at any bad taste in the currently popular minuet known as “Rock and Roll Around the Christmas Tree”? I’ll admit I was...at first.

“That does it!” I remember exclaiming when I heard the disc jockey give the title for the first time. “Is nothing sacred to Tin Pan Alley? Haven’t they any decency? Haven’t they any regard for what happened in that manger in Bethlehem?”

My righteous indignation, however, began to simmer down a bit when I asked myself what possible connection there was between those slap-happy office “Christmas” parties and that age-old story of the wise men and the shepherds and the bright, bright star they followed.

For that matter, what does all his tinsel and red ribbon and hundreds of extra clerks in the stores have to do with it? What does this keeping of a careful list of those who send us greeting cards have to do with the true meaning of Christmas? And if someone gives us a crocheted potholder, why must we go dashing out to get them something at this time of year? Because Christ was born? Is that the reason?

I used to get terribly depressed at Christmas time when I though of these things. For as a salesman of Christmas merchandise advertising, I knew full well that the days just prior to Dec. 25 are great days for most merchants.

Sure thing, Christmas has become commercialized, and in its name people get swacked at office parties and have a dedicated bebop tune. Does that mean they’ve forgotten whose birthday they’re celebrating?

A lot of them have not forgotten. I know, because I have just had an experience given to no other Bainbridge island. I have just concluded the final accounting for the first all-cash Bainbridge Christmas Fund, a money collection that will be used to present basic foodstuffs and other essentials to “down on their luck” island families.

Now there should be nothing particularly unusual about that. Most other newspapers in most other communities collect a Christmas fund. But to my knowledge, no other newspaper does it the way we have done it – anonymously – with no public acknowledgement of contributions. In other words, if the people of Bainbridge Island wanted to give to unfortunately situated, the had to just that – give. That is, give with nobody begging them or praising them.

As collector of that fund, I have been privileged to see who has given. It has been a heartening experience to watch that money come in, a $25 check here and a crumpled dollar bill there. It has been a richly emotional thing to note the surprisingly large donations made by many folks who, I am quite sure, cut short their own personal Christmas to do so.

In my book, that Bainbridge Island fund has a lot to do with what happened 19 centuries ago in Bethlehem. The Three Wise Men could have given to neighbors more purposefully or more sincerely than did those Bainbridge Islanders whose true Christmas giving I have had the privilege to notice. Let there be tinsel and eggnog and extra clerks in the stores and a hep-cat’s carol with a downbeat. Those are but incidentals. Christmas – the real Christmas – still lives.

There is good will.

– Walt Woodward, Bainbridge Island Review, Dec. 22, 1955

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