3 things I learnt from volunteering at Christmas.

Rachel Dong spent her Christmas raising money for people in need. Here’s her story.

I’m writing this as Christmas Eve looms nearby, people are rushing to supermarkets for supplies, presents are being prepared, turkeys are carefully selected, trees are fully decorated with ribbons, strings of Christmas light bulbs are joyfully glistening on rooftops, sending the warmth of family gatherings to every corner of the street. 

On this occasion young volunteers (like me) have the chance to forget homework and projects, and get enough time to set out and fundraise. Trying to ignore the idle atmosphere at the very onset of winter break, I chose to volunteer at The Salvation Army Canada for the Christmas Kettle campaign, as a bell ringer. I was collecting donations for the less fortunate who still struggle to make ends meet, helping them to have a warmer winter. My job is to stand at a Salvation Army post with the traditional kettle at the main entrance of a Walmart on Hay Boulevard, Oakville, to meet and greet shoppers with a smile and thank them for donating money into the kettle.

Hopefully the money we raised will bring a lot of happiness but here are three things the experience brought me:

1. A smile goes a long way

Within a society where business always overpowers unpaid work, it is difficult to stop people abruptly asking them for money for an organisation they may not even know, especially when they are busy with their urgent shops for dinner and Christmas supplies. Psychologically, they want to be given something for their time, for pulling their shopping carts over, something which makes them happy and relaxed. So instead of “do you want to donate something?” I chose beaming lightly at them the moment they pulled their cart to the entrance, wishing them an enjoyable shopping day. My greeting was genuine and a lot of people seemed to find it natural and delightful. That makes them happy. That makes them feel cared for and loved, which meant they wanted to give me something back in turn. 

2. Somethings are more important than money

Even when some people silently refuse to donate, they still gave me something unexpected and much more valuable than cash: their gratitude. Of course people cannot always give you money, but they give you their serenity in their smiles, in the way they say “Thank you” with their teeth open wide, their eyes closed naturally as they happily curve their lips. An old lady, after putting her $20 into the kettle, even squeezed my hands and told me “Thank you for doing this. Very much.” Seeing people happy has somehow made me happy, too, like I had lightened their day a little bit. And it was the way they expressed their appreciation towards my greetings that showed me that I was being cared and loved, that the societal contribution I had been making was meaningful to them. Living in a society in which people treat each other well, share with one another the beauty of their soul and the true core of care, rather than money is the warmest thing I have received from them. 

3. Merry Christmas is a magical greeting

Having lived in a tropical, Buddhist country for the previous 16 years of my life, I have never wished somebody a Merry Christmas when they helped me do something in winter. However, this year, I have learned to thank people by wishing them a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS as they paused to donate and smile. It’s very strange to me but friendly and family-like, that everyone wants everyone to have the most joyful time of the year with their family and friends. 

Having completed my shift for the day, I feel like these simple things alone have really made my first Christmas so meaningful to me. The winter breeze seems to blow so strong, but people’s hearts and care for each other glow warmer. I hope my first winter in Canada progresses with more lovable memories, and hope everyone feel grateful and happy with their loved ones at the end of this year! 

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3 things I learnt from volunteering at Christmas.

by Rachel Dong Reading time: 3 min