Tuesday 22 June 2010

Of presents and charity

I love giving presents, and I love receiving them, but present-giving isn't what it was.

Take, for instance, this practice of giving to charity instead of giving a present. I'm all for giving to charity - I give to charity, of course I do - but when a friend gave me a water buffalo for an African village as a birthday present, I was seriously annoyed. I never got to meet the water buffalo; I don't even know what a water buffalo is (a buffalo that swims, presumably). I might, if consulted, have chosen a goat, or a pig, or a camel. But no. It was the water buffalo. I've no idea how this animal is, whether its recipients were more pleased with it than I was, even whether it has a name. Add to that the fact that my friend* presumably felt all warm and fuzzy, because she considered that she had given me a present, and she'd also given the Africans a water buffalo. This is cheating. If you want to give a present, give a present. If you want to give to charity, then do that. But don't try to combine the two, because it just doesn't work.

I was reminded of this because at my one of my grandchildren's schools there is a growing custom for the invitation to have this little addendum: "Michael (Josh/Paul/whoever) doesn't want you to bring him a present this year. Instead he would like you to give a donation to a leper colony (or whatever)". Like hell, he would. Poor little kid. The parents are trading their son's happiness for the warm fuzzy feeling.

* She's not a friend any more, but not because of the water buffalo.


  1. You're right, of course, Frances.

    I make an exception for Christmas cards at work, because really, who wants another bloody Christmas card? A couple of chickens for Africans is less work than writing a load of the damned things, and I can enjoy a twinge of Guardian-reader smugness...

    Although as you say, there's nothing to stop me donating chickens *and* writing Christmas cards, except laziness.

  2. Oh, I totally agree about the Christmas cards at work thing. I don't see the point in sending cards to people you see every day. Christmas cards are keeping in touch things.

  3. These 'no presents please' parents obviously just don't want their houses filled up with the kind of pointless tat that kids get for birthday presents. Trouble is, kids love pointless tat and should be allowed to have it if they like and not have their parents make them be all faux-altruistic.

  4. Talking of pointless tat, I think the worst child-related kind was the kind my kids were invited to bring to school to sell (old broken toys, puzzles with pieces missing etc), coming back with other children's pointless tat (ditto) they'd bought, and all, of course, in aid of a good cause. I think that some of this junk did the rounds many times before some sensible parent finally binned it.

  5. Actually, water buffaloes are quite charming creatures--big, imposing-looking animals which are rather amiable, and are frequently driven from rice paddy to rice paddy by tiny children. All of which is quite beside the point of your post.

    Despite my enthusiasm over water buffaloes, however, I don't think they'd do well in England, so you probably shouldn't ask to be given one. Though I think they may have some in Italy here and there. Perhaps you could keep yours there and visit on holiday?

  6. David, I didn't WANT a water buffalo, however charming. I wanted a present. For me. But thanks for the information.