Two weeks ago, the other ESC – volunteers of Amazonas and I were on the On-arrival training where we met a lot of other international volunteers and had interesting conversations about very diverse topics. Since our program is called the “European Solidarity Corps”, Solidarity was, surprise, one of those topics. We were asked to choose between different terms that we associated with solidarity. To me personally, two important terms are love and empathy. In addition, I would also associate both terms with Christmas and since we are in the Christmas season right now, I want to look more closely to the link between solidarity actions and Christmas.
Love and empathy motivate us to do solidary actions
Why is love and empathy linked to solidarity? In my opinion, in order to help others and to be solidary, you have to first of all recognize a need, an emergency or a problem. “Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”. If we can understand someone’s feelings, experiences, or issues, we can also act accordingly. Being empathetic motivates to help a person / a group of people. In fact, you can also say that helping someone is not only selfless but by doing something meaningful and reducing other people’s pain / issues we feel better ourselves, too. Plus, being empathetic helps in building and strengthening relationships and good and healthy relationships are crucial for a mental and physical well-being. That means that showing empathy and helping others is good for both sides.
In my opinion, it is similar for love. If I feel love and affection towards someone, I am more likely to want to help them. I care about a person, so I want her to feel good. Both, love and empathy, are essential to motivate people to act solidarily.
The link between solidarity and Christmas
Indeed, the Christmas period is also called the “season of love” and it’s remarkable that it’s a period in which there are a lot of charity events and solidarity actions going on. The Christmas message, in fact, is about love, sharing and being there for each other. It represents the core Christian values, such as altruism, gratitude, and kindness. I want to emphasize that these values obviously are also found in other religions, and you don’t even have to be a member of any religion in order to convey these values and do solidarity actions. I do think though that the period of Christmas is a good time to remember those values, to think more of others and to give back to the community or people close to us if we have the possibility to.
Maybe I have a little bit more time now since I cannot go out so much anymore during the cold days, so I decide to dedicate more time to a project that is important to me.
What can I personally contribute during Christmas?
Firstly, I would like to mention a quite interesting fact. Not only do people buy Christmas presents for their family and friends, but they also seem much more willing to donate during Christmas time. For instance, according to a study, in the month of December 2017., 1060 million euros were donated in Germany. In comparison: In October of the same year, the amount was around 421 million euros, so not even half as in the advent time! So, we can state that one important part of charity especially in the Christmas season is donating. There are many NGOs, associations, and projects to donate to. Important here is to verify the seriousness of the organization to make sure the money really goes where it is supposed to go. This way, one can choose a topic that is particularly important for them. Some may choose humanitarian aid, others decide to donate for local projects, environmental organizations, or animal welfare.
Alternatively, there are also many other options other than donating money.
Donations for homeless people
The cold in the winter months can be very dangerous for homeless people. Here it can already a help to donate warm clothes, thick socks, a warm woolen jumper, or a winter jacket. Many of us certainly have a jumper in our wardrobe that we no longer wear, and other people can enjoy it even more. Similarly, sleeping bags are often needed as they are an important protection against the cold. Furthermore, one could help in the local soup kitchen by preparing and distributing warm food and drinks to people in need. Lastly, many people will probably also be happy to receive a little something to eat, perhaps a snack from the Christmas market or some Christmas chocolate.
In 2015, a lot of refugees arrived in Germany and there was quite a chaotic situation going on which led to less nice circumstances for many of those who had to escape their home country. As an extracurricular activity, we decided to pack little Christmas gift boxes for some refugees, with essentials but also some sweets to bring some light in the difficult time and for them to be part of some cultural activities.
I can imagine that also other social institutions such as an orphanage would appreciate an activity like that. Therefore, one option could be to inform yourself about this kind of institutions in your hometown and to ask if there is the possibility of implementing or participating in a similar activity.
Donating as a Christmas present
You don’t know what to get your brother or aunt and they seem to have everything? Maybe then you could do a donation in their name! As written before, there are lots of NGOs such as UNICEF, WWF, Greenpeace or Sea-watch or of course local projects where you can donate money to. So instead of buying the 10th pair of socks, this time you could perhaps donate in your friend’s / relative’s name. Usually, organizations will send you a certificate for the donation where you can put the name of the gift-receiver and donor which you can place under the Christmas tree in the end.
Spread the word
If you don’t have the resources to donate money or right now are not able to invest a lot of time in a project, there are still helpful things to do. For example, you can share projects that seem meaningful to you with your friends and family or on your social media to raise awareness and at best motivate others to participate in some way.
Small actions matter
And one key thing to remember is that sometimes, small actions like an honest smile or kind words can better someone’s day already. Maybe tell your friend that you appreciate their friendship, thank the waiter for the good coffee you had, bake your parents some Christmas cookies or compliment the person you saw in the center whose outfit you admired. That may sound silly or not as special, but I can speak for myself, and I think others feel similarly that those small gestures can bring joy and sometimes change the whole day of someone. And that brings us back to the values that the Christmas feast is supposed to remind us of: Kindness and gratitude. And we realize that we don’t need much to show them.
In conclusion, there are many ways of participating in solidary actions during Christmas to show love and empathy. As I already said in the previous blog post, everyone can find their own way of volunteering, according to one’s resources and motivation. Finally, I want to add, that Christmas is a great opportunity to remind us of the values we want to spread but maybe we can try to carry the Christmas spirit throughout the whole year. I wish you a nice and peaceful Christmas time!
See you next month,