Rockwell vs Reality

Usual disclaimer: All research in this post done in about 30 minutes via the internet and summarized into three lines. If I omitted or mis-represented your group it was not intentional, and I’d appreciate your help in correcting the mistake.


The entire family crowds around a table, laden with seasonal eats and trimmings. (In some traditions there is an abundance of home-baked sugar, in others it’s bitter herbs and ashes. Rockwell would have gone with the Americana version.)

The kids present their gaily decorated jars, filled to overflowing with carefully-saved and prayed-over coins, mostly small denominations, with the occasional crisp bill from an aunt who said, “Spend it wisely.”

They look over a list of charities and come to a consensus. The kids decorate at least three cards each (for the walls of the charity), then decorate the more formal anonymous letter from the parents. The envelope is stuffed and sealed, and they sing carols while walking three miles to deliver it in person.


On the rare occasions Mom remembers to pay allowance (she keeps track so it all adds up by the end of the year), she also drops the agreed-on number of coins into each child’s plain manila charity envelope, decorated with the child’s name in block-letters. Sometimes she substitutes IOU notes for coins.

When the school does Jump Rope for Heart or the Terry Fox Walk, the kids empty their envelopes. Yes, the second event, only six weeks after the first, gets short-changed.

When making the chart of who has to buy for whom, she mumbles something about charity. She repeats the mumbles every so often, usually when the kids should be concentrating on something else, such as getting out the door.

Eventually, while procrastinating from housework, she looks up the average spending, to assuage her conscience. CBC report .

Canadians are cheap. (Either that or they don’t keep tax receipts.) Only 25% of families claim any donation on their income taxes, and of that the median claim is only $250 — meaning half of Canadian families donate even less. Minimum wage is $10, for $20,000 / year. 1% of that would be $200. Our family makes more than minimum wage.

Okay, maybe those stats doesn’t count the coins tossed into fountains and the grocery stores that let you add a few bucks to the total for the foodbank, but it’s still pretty bad.

The Old Testament suggests 10% of income as the magic number, and that comes from even older traditions. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam (although there’s some discrepancy of tithing 10% of income vs offering 2.5% of ones assets). Dasvandh (das = tenth, vandh = giving) is mandated in the Sikh scriptures and applies to both time in prayer and income. All said the money is to support the work of the religion (including buildings and salaries) and the poor. No faith insisted you send the money through them, although they all had sub-groups who claimed otherwise. Likewise, they all said they had expenses and would appreciate being one of the charities you support.

So, somewhere between 1% and 10% of income. Parents agree on family total and where parents’ donation will go. Leave a chunk for the “family donation” as chosen by the kids.

Back to the charming family scene:

As the kids are getting ready for school, Mom asks where their charity money should go. Repeat when they should be going to sleep and other busy times. After a few weeks of this she takes the notepad with her and writes down the answers.

While the kids are at school, she counts the contents of their envelopes and dumps the coins into the family coin bin. She also adds up donations from earlier this year and calculates how much the parents will donate. She adds the two numbers, then goes online to find the address and ends up using the online donation form and her credit card.

I dunno, doesn’t seem as personal as dropping coins into a kettle, kids don’t get the same warm glow, but it’s a step in the right direction.


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