The Christmas message at work everywhere

With 1 in 122 persons displaced by conflict, the giving spirit toward strangers is more needed than ever. This Christmas, Christians will again reflect the generous spirit found in the humble coming of Christ in a manger. As one global survey finds, humility often drives giving.

AP Photo
Syrian refugees visit the Christmas market in Zwickau, eastern Germany. The Muslim family has joined in the Christmas spirit of their neighbors, decorating the door of their flat with glittery red bells and tree branches in green and gold.

To Christians around the world, Christmas is a time for giving, not only with gifts but in many ways. They tie the holiday to the humble origins of Jesus, born in a stable to a couple in need of shelter yet offering a promise of love for all (Christian or not). Today, the giving spirit is stronger than ever, according to the latest World Giving Index. In short, generosity toward strangers rose last year. And just as well. The number of people displaced by conflict is at its highest since World War II. One person in every 122 has been forced to flee, perhaps to end up like the Christ child in the modern equivalent of a stable.

In 2015, the number of forcibly displaced people increased to more than 60 million, largely in the Middle East and Africa, according to the United Nations. About a sixth of them are Syrians, or roughly half the population of that war-torn country. And many of these displaced are also “food insecure,” according to the World Food Program, meaning they go hungry almost daily.

The persistence of armed conflict, from Burundi to Ukraine, has not only driven people from their homes but left them in need of food aid. In the past two decades, the sustained generosity of many countries, charities, and individuals has brought remarkable progress against hunger. The percentage of people who are regularly undernourished is now 10.9 percent, down from 18.6 percent in 1990-92. This drop coincides with a rapid decline in absolute poverty (defined as $1.90 per day) from 902 million people just three years ago to 702 million this year.

Yet all this progress must be held up against the rapid rise in mass migration from conflicts.

Dealing with these macro numbers on hunger, poverty, and homelessness can be daunting. Yet solving them begins, like the meaning of Christmas, in a spirit of love by each individual inspired to believe in the inevitability of good for others. Often that inspiration comes from overcoming one’s own suffering.

The evidence for that lies in the Global Giving Index. “We have been surprised and humbled by how people in countries which have suffered adversity continue to score highly, and even give more in some instances,” states John Low, chief executive of Charities Aid Foundation, the group that compiles the index. 

Not surprising, the country that came in second in generosity toward strangers is Iraq, which has experienced war over the past three decades, the latest being with Islamic State.

“It is remarkable that Iraqis continue to exhibit such generosity amidst ongoing security concerns. Indeed, it may even be that the recent increase in helping a stranger is a response to growing need,” states the World Giving Index report.

Whether in Iraq or in the message from a lowly manger in Bethlehem long ago, people still find joy in seeking to lessen the burdens of others. This triumph of love is a tribute to humility, and worth celebrating at Christmas, or anytime.

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