View Poll Results: At holiday time, do people in your area:

Voters
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  • give canned food, presents or clothing to charity?

    8 72.73%
  • feed the homeless?

    1 9.09%
  • have concerts at the local park, school or house of worship?

    0 0%
  • light up the shopping areas to make people happy?

    2 18.18%
  • hold a winter festival?

    0 0%
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  1. #1
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    Charity and the holidays

    There are times when I'm talking to my boyfriend and I feel like a completely naive idiot. I just got off the phone with him, after spending a good deal of the day at Brooklyn's Prospect Park. I went there for two reasons: there is a quilt exhibit at the Boathouse, and I wanted to see the lights that had been set up around the park this year. It seems that the owner of one of our local newspapers wanted to do something for the people of New York. In his words, he wanted to 'make people happy', because of all the sadness over the war and everything else. So he went to our mayor and said he wanted to 'light up' something really big, and the Mayor suggested Prospect Park, because places like Manhattan's big parks have no end of people wanting to do things for them.

    Here's a picture of one of the gates at Prospect Park. Four gates were lit up- the display is more spectacular than in the photos, because the LEDs keep changing colors. http://prospectpark.org/

    So here's where my boyfriend comes in. I came home from standing out in the cold tonight, listening to trumpeters from the Brooklyn Philharmonic and watching adorable black step-dancers and little old cChinese-American ladiesmoving gracefully on a protable stage, after having sipped free hot chocolate and eaten free candy canes donated by the city. And I rode on a free trolley to see the lights, on a tour given by the head of the Prospect Park conservation group. And I call him, and tell him how fun it was, and then I ask a stupid question:' But you do things like this in [your small town] all the time, right?'

    Over the phone is an enormous silence. 'Nope.'
    'But, your local stores surely fund light displays to amuse shoppers?'
    'Nope.'
    'Um- the local restaurants band together and donate food to homeless shelters, right?'
    'Nope.'
    ' OK- but I know your local churches surely have to have food drives where they gather canned food, and encourage people to donate coats to keep people from freezing to death, and the city helps them do it, right?'

    Long, slow pause.

    'You think I live in Bedford Falls, don't you?'

    Weakly, I throw myself into the icy stream that is my fantasy of small town life. 'You mean, you don't all go skating and roast potatoes, and have hayrides, or big light displays?'
    'We have one big light display for pay at an amusement park. We have Toys for Tots. That's it.'

    'But, but-'
    'Why do you think I want to live in New York with you? You have several skating rinks. You have free displays and shows. you have tons of charities to help people.'
    'But all those conservatives keep saying people in New York are godless liberals who don't give anything to anybody, that we're selfish and mean, and that we don't like christmas because we refer to "the holidays".'

    'Um- that's why I think they're stupid, honey.'
    Meanwhile I went skating this week. It wasn't free, but the rink, which is temporary, was paid for by Citibank. You can rent skates if you need to and you have to pay for bag check if you don't have your own lock. If you own skates and a lock, it's free, with views of the back of the NY Public Library, and Tassimo (that company with the high-tech coffee machine) giving away free coffee and hot chocolate and tea.

    All this is making me wonder- since I know that everyone doesn't live in a mean-spirited, parsimonious town (my boyfriend's town has all but banned Halloween, and evidently doesn't believe in giving to the poor at Thanksgiving or in December) - what do your towns all do for fun during the holidays, other than kick beggars from the door, in between going to church to feel smug and snubbing Jews who won't convert (which seems to be the favorite sport in his town, one I'm too embarrassed to name here)? Because I find it impossible to believe that most suburbanites and rural folk are that nasty, and I know a lot of people here live in suburban areas.

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  3. #2
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    I picked "light up shopping area" but I could have picked "winter festival" as well because there is a light festival in my town. Different artists have designed light exhibits in various places around town, such as the main shopping street. It's very much needed because the sun sets before 2 PM and we don't have any snow yet (argh!) so it's daaarrrrrrkkkk.

    I don't think there's an official charity drive, though. The homeless population isn't very large, but I'm sure there are many people who are lonely and have nowhere to go for the holidays. I'm pretty sure the Red Cross or the Salvation Army organises Christmas dinners, but as far as I know there's nothing organised through the town itself. I'll have to look it up now...

  4. #3
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    My answer would actually be "all of the above".
    Folks around here are very generous all year 'round, but I'm sure the holiday season is the peak of charity giving.
    Concerts, pretty lights, and other fun winter activities round out the season.

    anthrogirl...did you know that Seneca Falls, NY is thought by many to be the inspiration for Bedford Falls? There was just an article about it in yesterday's newspaper.

  5. #4
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    All of the above.

    I live within several blocks of a homeless shelter and a community center that focuses on the needs of the homeless and disadvantaged (the two are unrelated organizations). The put together toy drives, food drives, community dinners, community parties, etc.

    The pedestrian mall downtown was lit up before Thanksgiving and there are multiple winter festivals, from holiday themes to "Kites on Ice."

    I live in a small city, but many of my friends live in the suburban areas around here and have similar experiences with holiday activities. Things aren't necessarily Christmas Themed (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa - but, given the ethnic make up of Wisconsin "St. Nick's Day" is widely celebrated) but they also aren't entirely focused on the consumerism of the holidays either.

    One thing to remember is that a lot of people who live in suburbia go into more urban areas to celebrate the holidays (whether it be shopping, holiday concerts, or other holiday activities), so the lack of those activities in those areas does not mean that suburbanites do not participate in them.

  6. #5
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    Not all small towns are like your boyfriend's. I grew up in a very small town and we had concerts, lights, and that. Lighting the Christmas tree in the gazebo was a big deal. Plus Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army.

    Just because the town isn't specifically organizing a food drive doesn't mean it isn't getting done. My elementary school classes always had our own and my temple at home (which is maybe 10 people but whatever) always does the Friendly Kitchen Christmas meals. I know that other local religious groups also volunteer around the holidays. And my mom's school does an adpot a needy child for the holidays thing. So maybe a lot of the activity is on a small scale that isn't readily observed by people outside of that specific group? Maybe people are sort of quiet and private with their giving?

    I couldn't even begin to say what, if anything, the city of Philadelphia does. I'm guessing it's nothing. I think there are some public Christmas trees around.

    I think something to remember is that it may be easier in some ways for a big city like NY to have stuff like skating and free hot cocoa. Because they have a larger tax base, and they also have more large corporations that are willing to put things on. Plus, there are more people to enjoy those things. If your town only has 1000 people, putting together a skating rink is kind of a big expensive project that may not get enough use to be worthwhile (plus, the insurance!). And call me cynical, but I'd bet the companies involved aren't doing those things on a purely altruistic basis - they want good feelings to be associated with their brand and sponsoring a skating rink is a good way to do that.

  7. #6
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    What wonderful responses! In my boyfriend's town there are various gorups like the Masons (he's one of tem) but none of the churches or social groups organize anything. Thaere are a few soup kitchens, but that's it. Most people don't go into Pittsburgh or Harrisburg or State College to do anything- they just stay home. Most of them go to church, but that's it.

    I'm intrigued by Seneca Falls from everything I've ever read, it sounds wonderful in so many ways.

    NYC is interesting in that we are one large city, but are made up of zillions of neighborhoods and the remains of two large cities- Brooklyn and New York. Since Brooklyn and New York were in a rivalry with each other (Brooklyn would still be a city today if it wasn't for its lack of fresh water, which New York had in abundance), they both had pretty magnificent buildings and charitable organizations in place by Incorporation Day. That 19th Century civic pride, mixed with immigrants' love for a new homeland and a desire to give back to it, makes for a potent brew here at holiday time, and for the secular nature in which we celebrate, so that we have no problem with having a Christmas tree and a menorah on 5th Avenue, or incorporating Pakistani-American Moslem dancers and Chinese-American dancers into holiday celebrations that are held in front of crowds of people, many of whom are wearing yarmulkes.

  8. #7
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    I think, Anthrogirl, that what a lot of people are gently pointing out is that part of what you're interpreting as moral superiority is, in fact, privilege. Citibank isn't funding skating rinks in New York because the recognize the innate superiority of New York over podunk. They're funding stuff in New York because that's where the rich people congregate, and those are the people whose attention they want. And if podunk isn't holding winter festivals, it may be because the local businesses are struggling too hard to compete with Wal-mart to have much left over to contribute to the civic good. What I see here is a bit of the rich sneering at the poor, because even if you aren't rich in New York, you benefit mightily from the resources of those who are.

    Don't get me wrong: I love New York. I spent six years there, and I miss it sometimes. But I wish New Yorkers would be a bit more open-minded about the rest of the country.

  9. #8
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    For my community, I would say all of the above. My community in this sense being the metroplitan area, my personal suburb and the places where I dine and shop.

    We don't have a city-sponsored food or charity drive (because that isn't really the city's job). We have many Salvation Army, food bank and other charitable drives though - some of which have major corporate buy-in and seem city-sponsored and others on a smaller scale.

    We have lights displays and cultural events and all sorts of civic events this time of year - but they are on a much different scale than what you see in NYC - for the tax/corporate/population size reasons already mentioned.

    (We don't get major record label acts at our tree lighting, but a local marching band is sure to turn up)

    I suspect that no matter where you are in the country, there are ways to get out and enjoy the season.

  10. #9
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    All of the above.

    And we personally make an effort to give to charities for international work, such as the red cross / red crescent and the Steven Lewis Foundation.

  11. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by sallysunshine
    I think, Anthrogirl, that what a lot of people are gently pointing out is that part of what you're interpreting as moral superiority is, in fact, privilege. Citibank isn't funding skating rinks in New York because the recognize the innate superiority of New York over podunk. They're funding stuff in New York because that's where the rich people congregate, and those are the people whose attention they want. And if podunk isn't holding winter festivals, it may be because the local businesses are struggling too hard to compete with Wal-mart to have much left over to contribute to the civic good. What I see here is a bit of the rich sneering at the poor, because even if you aren't rich in New York, you benefit mightily from the resources of those who are.

    Don't get me wrong: I love New York. I spent six years there, and I miss it sometimes. But I wish New Yorkers would be a bit more open-minded about the rest of the country.
    Actually, I know it's privilege- to a great extent.

    But I once dated a guy who lived ina small town in Massachussetts- they had a one-week winter festival there every year. It wasn't gigantic, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. I have a friend who lives in a small college town in rural Virginia- so small that the town only has one 'official' building, a Pentecostal church. The winter tradition was for everyone to buy their trees from the local tree farm and leather shop. The guy served hot chocolate. I spent one of the best Christmases ever there. The day after Christmas, we went to the annual girl's basketball game, and it was fun watching so many people cheering on their favorite team.

    While certain things are about living in an area with tons of money to spend on civic decoration (in part because of tourism- most New Yorkers never go see the Thanksgiving Day Parade, or even walk along Fifth Avenue), there are plenty of towns that have their own way of celebrating, aren't there? A friend of mine lives in upstate New york, in an area that is touristy in the summer and empty of everyone but locals during the winter- he goes to visit his neighbors at holiday time, and they keep an eye out for each other. When I was half-joking about ice-skating and potato shacks by ponds, or or when I joke with my sweety about quilting bees, I do so because my friend in rural Virginia actually lives in an area where people get together for making projects for charity. My frined in upstate New York does actually have a firehouse near him that holds pancake breakfasts, like something out of a 40s movie, and the firefighters do it every year. Incidentally, my boyfriend thinks his town is stingy because his local Shriner group is among the few who do anything- they sponsor a circus every year and donate money to Shriner-run hospitals for sick children. They also sponsor an annual baseball game and the money goes to the same place.

    When I picture small towns, that's what I picture. Like I said, I'm naive (the same way suburbanites are naive about big city living which seems to picture drug dealers on every subway train and people who never donate money to anything- as was said on Fox this past week about San Francisco, wherein it was claimed that people don't give to charity). My naivete comes in part from living in a town that is considered to be at the forefront of the 'war against Christmas'. For a town that has been accused of only caring about money and not people, and more about diversity for the sake of diversity and not about homely values like giving back to society or civic virtue, individuals here (most of our charities were started by ordinary people, not the city itself) do seem to try to give a bit of themselves at holiday time. That was the point that Charles Dickens made a lot better than I could over a hundred years ago. While the people of London had enough money to do certain charitable things on a grand scale, a town's merchants and residents don't have to be rich to provide joy. People here who are finishing up projects for Project Night Night aren't doing it because they are rich or have someone helping them. Some of them don't have much at all, and aren't capable of putting tons of money into their projects. But it does take a certain kind of mindset. My boyfirned's town has a mindset in which carolling is discouraged, and in which Halloween is seen as proof of the Devil at work. Local priests and pastors encouraged their congregations to get trick or treating curtailed by the town government. Yet the same town had money to build a monstrosity of a convention center that was a boondoggle from the start.

    Sorry, but some of it in his town reminds me of a college where I work. The students recently voted to work on raising money to expand the new student center so that more parties can be held there. The student center is enormous- it's the largest building on campus. The Library, on the other hand, is inadequate. Most of my students can't find it (or have never tried), and it's in the middle of campus. It needs new book collections- after all, college is supposed to be about studying, not partying. But none of the many frats or sororities seem to be interested in that cause. They want meeting rooms for their four years at college, even as the college is expanding and trying to expand its reputation as an academic center. Yet there are students who think tha other students who win academic awards are stupid and are wasting their time- the student-run newspaper hardly ever mentions academic award winners.

    Is it privilege to think that members some towns might be wrong minded to not plan on making holidays nice for people because some larger cities do that, or is it a curiosity that makes some of us wonder about life in some places that are located in what might be called the heartland, and what people do during the holiday season to foster a sense of community? Because commentators are always talking about how city-dwellers don't have community feeling, but people in the heartland do, and that they take care of their own without needing Federal funding or charities because the people are more moral and possibly more godly. That's what I've been hearing for about 12 years now. Nevertheless, it's not in San Francisco that people are objecting to a Muslim taking his oath of office on a Koran, and it wasn't in New York that a kid threw a girl into a bonfire because he felt that Jews should burn. Is that a matter of privilege, or something else? We certainly have enough ignorant people here, so maybe it is privilege. But I suspect that it might be something else. Ditto, I suspect that 'something else' is found in cities and towns across America and around the world. I'm not arrogant enough to think New Yorkers have a lock on it.


 
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