COLUMN: Pennies ring out sound of Christmas

The Christmas season came rocketing in like a GT snowracer on an icy hill this week.

Usually, it trickles in, with a few places starting Christmas music and others slowly putting up decorations. But this year people seemed somewhat respectful of Remembrance Day, keeping the wrapping paper and shiny bits out of sight until Nov. 12. Some stores even pulled Christmas music after complaints.

But it’s impossible to deny that the season is upon us, especially as those of us at the News Bulletin kick off our annual Pennies for Presents campaign.

I say often enough – to the point of cliché, even – that the sound of Christmas here at the office is that of pennies cascading into jars.

I took over Pennies for Presents when I started as a junior reporter here almost nine years ago, writing stories about the various people, clubs and groups who gathered coins to donate to the annual drive.

Teachers at Nanaimo District Secondary School would cheat by gathering donations all year to win the school’s annual classroom competition to collect the most pennies. The students raised so much one year the weight broke the frame on our assistant editor’s truck.

But it’s all for a good cause.

Some stories were funny, and others made your heart well with emotion.

Like the late fellow who collected pennies every year from his community living neighbours. Most of the people who gave donations to him were literally counting every penny to get by, yet they still managed to collect a sizable donation every year.

When he died, he left what money he had left to our campaign that year.

I’ve  handed the campaign over to Jenn McGarrigle, who will write stories and co-ordinate drop-off locations, volunteers to roll the pennies and eventually give cheques to our three charities.

One of those charities is the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive, which kicked off its own campaign on Thursday.

It’s one of the charities I personally support, and I’m picky about my charitable donations. It’s local, so I know that anything I give will help a family in my community, and it has low administration costs, which means more of what I give goes directly to the people who need it.

As an aside, when considering donations to any charity, be sure to look up the percentage of donations which support administration. It might surprise you.

Some might complain that the toy drive simply perpetuates the commercialization of Christmas. I don’t – gifts at Christmas are part of our cultural fabric. As adults, we can choose to opt out of that part of society, but to force children to do that is rather mean.

Receiving a gift on Christmas that they can take to school to show to friends can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem; make them feel part of this big celebration in which we all participate.

If they want to opt out when they’re older, that’s fine, too. But right now, let them be kids.

I don’t practise religion, and neither does the rest of my family, so our traditions are drawn more from pop culture than dogma.

We buy a real tree from a service club, which means it sometimes looks a little Charlie Brownish. No matter – we fill in the holes with lights and shiny things.

We eat – chocolate, butter tarts and shortbread, plus the great turkey feast; we watch hockey – especially the world junior hockey championships; and we gather as a family, never missing my aunt’s annual Christmas Eve party.

Travelling in B.C. is always a challenge, never more so than in the winter. So I’ll be looking heaven-ward for skies clear enough to fly this December so that I can be home for Christmas.

As an adult, that’s my best gift.

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