Christmas: The call to action, not just celebration

Salvation Army Soldier Daniel Aherns collects donations on 5th Ave. at Rockefeller Center.
Salvation Army Soldier Daniel Aherns collects donations on 5th Ave. at Rockefeller Center. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The sounds of Christmas have already filled the air, and there are certain sounds we expect to hear each year. For instance, we expect to hear Christmas carols no matter what kind of store we patronize. It wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t hear children’s Christmas songs and Charlie Brown holiday tunes. And what about the love songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “This Christmas”? These are the sounds that lift our spirits and remind us it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

There are also other sounds that help to make the season bright. One of those sounds is the Red Kettle bell ringing project sponsored by the Salvation Army. You know it’s Christmas when you’re out shopping and you hear those bells inviting you to give to the poor.

Salvation Army’s Capt. Joseph McFee launched this project in 1891 out of concern for the indigent who would go hungry during the holiday season. After committing to providing meals for 1,000 of San Francisco’s poorest residents, he strategically placed an iron pot in a location where passersby could toss coins along with a sign that said, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” Soon after, McFee had collected enough money to fulfill his commitment. His goal was to ensure that those who were poor and destitute would not be forgotten while those more fortunate were celebrating.

The kettle concept became so popular over the next six years that the idea spread throughout America and the number of needy being fed increased to 150,000. By 1901, the Salvation Army had expanded its reach to New York City with enough contributions and volunteers to provide sit down meals at Madison Square Garden. Today in America alone, the Salvation Army provides relief to over 4.5 million people during the holiday season. The Red Kettle tradition that originated to assist only a few locals has spread around the world as a call to remember those who would otherwise be forgotten.

Another sound we hear in the Macon-Bibb community comes from former City Council President Anita Ponder. For over 20 years, there is a call for volunteers to share their time and resources during the Annual Anita Ponder & Friends Holiday Feast. This event began as Ponder, along with her sisters, devoted their Christmas preparing meals for the poor from their mother’s kitchen. What started as a small family project has grown into a major undertaking with over 300 volunteers providing children’s toys, haircuts, hairstyling, and meals for approximately 1,500 people in need.

Anita Ponder hands out gifts to children during the annual Anita Ponder and Friends Holiday Feast. Jason Vorhees

Although Ponder currently lives in Dallas, she remains committed to ensuring the needy in our community are not forgotten during the holiday season. You can learn how you can support the Holiday Feast by calling Sandra Bryant at (478)-737-8930.

Some folks complain that the holidays are only about commercialism, but that’s not true for everyone. There are those who cannot ignore the people living on the fringes praying desperately that they may also experience the joys of the season. They are the ones who give of their resources and volunteer their time because they want to be the answer to someone’s prayer. Remembering Christmas is much more about what you give than what you receive. The sounds of Christmas are calls to action, not merely calls to celebration.

The Rev. Gail T. Smith is pastor of the Universal Light Christian Center in Macon.