Christmas is one of the most anticipated and joyful of all holidays. It’s a time when people expect miracles, even if they pretend not to believe in them. It’s a time when people want to receive presents – but giving them is no less pleasant. When you give someone a present and you see how their eyes light up and how a happy smile appears on their face, you become a hundred times happier than if you had received a present yourself.
Charity comes in different forms. Often it takes the form of simply transferring funds to a charitable organization. But today in Russia it’s also become popular to offer practical help to people who are unable to care for themselves: the sick, the elderly, children, and people with disabilities. People offer financial help less frequently than, for example, in European countries or in America.
The “Gifts of Joy” charity drive to collect presents is underway in the Martha-Mary Convent in Moscow. This is a brilliant example of Russian charity. Anyone can choose one or more presents for specific people from a wish list posted on the “Gifts of Joy” website. The plan is simple: choose a present from the list, go purchase it, and then bring it to the collection point at the convent. There have been about 20,000 requests for gifts – and 90% of them have been met!
This year I took part in this charity drive for the first time, volunteering in the reception point. I saw much that both pleased and surprised me. During the few hours that I spent in the small garage that had been converted into a reception point, I saw many more genuinely happy faces than I would’ve seen if I’d spent the entire day simply wandering around Moscow. What compels people to take the time to go buy presents, bring them to the convent, and leave them there for people they don’t know and will most likely never meet? I think it’s because they have faith – faith that they’ll bring joy to someone. I was surprised to see that many of the presents were quite expensive, like laptops and washing machines. And the most astonishing thing is that people come not just once, but a second and third time with new presents.
Apart from the people who bring the presents, it’s also worth remembering those who accept them and then go around distributing them to their destinations. Volunteers do all this work. There are some people who can only spare a few hours of their time; there are others who come every day and stay for several hours. I think that the Lord will accept everyone’s labor equally.
It seems to me that this sort of charity drive is a wonderful opportunity to bring joy to someone who is alone and having a difficult time – a chance to do something good.
Photos by Daria Veingradt.
Daria is a student at the St. Elizabeth Gymnasium at the Martha-Mary Convent in Moscow.