Give thanks for what we have, and give to others

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 December, 2008, 12:00am

Christmas will not be as merry as it might have been for some of us this year, and the reason for that is no big surprise. Times are tough and are going to get tougher, we have been told repeatedly. Thousands of people have lost their jobs and more cuts are on the way; bonuses are going to be small, if they are given at all. Pay rises are out of the question.

The global financial meltdown has not turned Hong Kong into a giant homeless shelter, nor is this likely to happen - our society is far too affluent for that. Jobs are nonetheless disappearing and work difficult to find. Companies are laying off staff regardless of the season. The cheer and goodwill usually associated with Christmas has been replaced in some quarters by anxiety and sadness.

Most of us are not doing that badly, despite the downturn. We still have our jobs and can keep up mortgage payments. Our shareholdings have taken a battering, but there is enough spare cash to buy nice gifts and good food. The problem is the uncertain future.

It is the doubtful outlook that has kept us from spending more this Christmas. Shops are not doing as well as at this time last year because of the uncertainty. Luxuries are being downgraded; treats are being ignored in favour of necessities. Even those of us who live in comfortable splendour are being less flippant about spending.

There are many things to worry about: jobs, pension funds, stock portfolios and balance sheets. Even as we sit down to Christmas dinner today and spend time with loved ones and friends, at the back of our minds will be those concerns. Conversations will certainly turn to the grim times being experienced.

So, if this is how the meltdown has affected us, think about how much more worried those less fortunate are feeling. We may not directly know someone who has been sacked, but we have read about them. How about those companies that have put out warnings about likely profit downturns and the consequences? Then there are those who have always had an uphill struggle, the elderly, disabled, unskilled and the homeless among them. If we have not already given consideration to these people, it is high time we did.

Charity and goodwill should be part of human nature. Caring societies are the most successful ones. From time to time during the year, we should be helping the needy, whether through volunteer work - if we can spare the time - or financially. Christmas is the traditional time of giving; it is a period when those of us who have been remiss can make amends.

Among the worthy avenues to aid those who need help is Operation Santa Claus. Organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, it is now in its 21st year. This year, donations will benefit 13 charitable groups: End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation, Operation Dawn, Youth Outreach School of Hip Hop, Caritas-Hong Kong UNHCR Project, Hong Kong Unison, Produce Green Foundation, Soul Talk, HK Young Women's Christian Association Wan Wah Care and Attention Home, the Children's Heart Foundation, the Lions Kidney Educational Centre and Research Foundation, The Society for Aids Care, Grace Link Charity and The Samaritans. Part of the money raised will go to the Post's Homes for Hope project to help victims of the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province .

Banishing thoughts of the bad times with festive cheer is going to be a priority for a good number of us during the coming days. This is the time of year to do so, after all. As we celebrate, though, we should spare a thought for those in less fortunate circumstances. When we get the time, we should offer them help, in whatever way we can.