The Bell Ringer


I’m a bit of a Christmas nut… a sucker for all the trappings: the trees, the food, the lights, the carols, and the general sense of excitement that’s in the air.

As I walk through grocery stores and the occasional retail store, the collective feel of Christmas energizes me… except for one part. As I exit or enter almost every establishment, I’m suddenly tinged with guilt. I look away and move a bit to the side of the entrance, doing my best to avoid… the bell ringer.

Now, the bell ringer is really just a composite character. It could be the person there at the bucket for the Salvation Army, or the person on the phone calling on behalf of Toys For Tots, or even the person at the door collecting for the local orphanage.

The point remains the same. Not only are shoppers out at this time of year, but also charities. They set up shop on street cornrners and at cash registers during the holidays because that’s when people are feeling more generous.


Those raising money work tirelessly to better the lives of others, and they use a variety of tactics to bend you to their will. They smile, make direct eye contact, and use leading statements or questions to break into your conscience, or at least your consciousness.

They may plead for a simple contribution of pocket change, ask for a commitment of a few cents a day, or maybe even request a one-time gift large enough to affect a child for a lifetime.

They ask questions like: “Don’t you think everyone should be remembered at Christmas?” and “As you shop for your family, could you help another who has nothing?”

Dang it! Guilt. It’s right there, being sent through the airwaves. And I was just feeling so great about Christmas!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blind to the traditional view of Christmas, which of course is the birth of Christ, and what that has come to symbolize in terms of generosity of spirit and the duty of Christians to care for others. In fact, I agree with it.

What gets me is not that there are so many volunteers out there trying to collect on behalf of others. My issue is that I really did “give at the office!”

Like many of you, I try to outline my charitable giving well before the holidays, recognizing that good causes and being in need aren’t somehow tied to the calendar. Bad things happen in March as well. So by the time Christmas comes around, I think I’ve done my part. Which is why I resolve politely, yet firmly, to refrain from giving to the various groups that randomly ask me for contributions this time of year.

And yet, there’s that bell ringer… looking at me. Smiling. I think the smile is devious. I could be wrong.

Still, it starts to weigh on my mind, so I cave. I dig into my pocket and pull out some change. And then some more change. Maybe a dollar bill. Or two. And then all is lost. I wind up giving at least a little bit to most of the groups that I come across. My resolve is now a distant memory.

I’d like to blame it on the bell ringers, the way they work into my brain and make me feel guilty. But it’s not their fault. The guilt, of course, begins and ends with me.

As I go through the holidays, particularly as I sit here on Christmas Eve, I reflect on the year and how things have gone.

Did I do enough?

Did I fulfill my obligations as a citizen of my town, state, and nation as well as those of my faith?

Did I do enough to feel good about it?

Hmmm. Big questions. I’m not sure there are any solid answers, which is why the laser-like stare of the bell ringer gets to me. I know I’ve tried, but still….

As you enjoy your Christmas Day and the rest of the season, may you be comfortable in the knowledge that you have done your part to make the world a better place.

I would imagine that you made your contributions throughout the year. At the time, there was no cajoling, no guilty stares, and no peer pressure about how “everyone is in the giving mood.”

Instead, there was simply a desire to do the right thing for others, working to lighten the load of those less fortunate. It’s like spreading the ideals of Christmas all throughout the year.

Merry Christmas,


Follow me on Twitter @RJHSDent


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