Let’s Emphasize the True Meaning of Giving this Holiday Season

Marion Leary
3 min readDec 15, 2022


By Marion Leary and Jen Leary

Jen Leary stocking the South Philly Community Fridge.

Christmas is supposed to be the season of giving, but more and more, it feels like the season of material giving. When Jen and I were young, our parents would turn Christmas morning into a scene from a movie: we would come down the stairs to the sounds of Bing Crosby playing in the background and piles and piles of presents wrapped beautifully in front of a giant Christmas tree twinkling with lights. As a kid, it was indeed magical. As I got older, though, I began to realize the destructive nature of capitalism, and thus have enjoyed the expected gift-giving less and less (Jen still loves thoughtfully giving and receiving gifts —me not so much).

I am not trying to be the Grinch here. Still, the wasteful spending of money on material things makes my heart shrink three sizes. In the US, there are over 1.8 million nonprofits. In Philly alone, there are approximately 25,000 worthwhile organizations (depending on how you define a nonprofit). And, lest we not forget our beloved four-legged friends, there are something like 14,000 animal shelters and rescue groups in the US, and no shortage of animal rescue groups in Philly. Yet, over the past three years, the number of volunteers and donors to said nonprofits has declined. In contrast, spending during the holiday season is projected to increase from last year, with a projected total spending of nearly $960 billion. Can you imagine what those 1.8 million nonprofits could do with $960 billion?

As former heads of nonprofits (Sink or Swim Philadelphia and Red Paw Emergency Relief Team), we can tell you firsthand they could do a lot with that money to assist more people (and pets) live better, healthier, safer lives.

Even though gifts are a prerequisite of the holiday season, let’s remember what a gift really means. A gift is “a thing given willingly to someone without payment,” — it doesn’t have to be bought. Think back a year, two years, or three — can you even remember what material thing you were given from co-workers, friends, or distant relatives? Now, think about a time when you donated to a charitable organization or volunteered for a nonprofit; those memories are probably seared in your memory.

This holiday season of giving, we have some suggestions. Instead of a traditional secret Santa where you end up with yet another overly fragrant candle, why not have everyone select their favorite charitable organization to donate to? Instead of giving your relatives another pair of socks, gloves, or pajamas, why not donate your time in their honor at a local food pantry or animal shelter? Like Scrooge when he awoke on Christmas day, that type of holiday giving will make your spirit thankful in a way that materialism and capitalism just can’t.

So, this Christmas, let’s emphasize the true meaning of giving.

Please note: not all nonprofits and mutual aid organizations (Mutual Aid organizations are entirely run by volunteers and are community-powered, providing direct aid, neighbor to neighbor) are created equal. Be sure to do some research first. Santa will know if you’re giving to an organization that is naughty versus nice. Take the time to look at their website and social media and invest money and time into smaller organizations that do the work on the ground and who need it most. Some of our personal favorites are South Philly Community Fridge, The Block Gives Back, Philly Truce, Mighty Writers, FirstHand, Coded By Kids, Paw It Forward, and Street Tails, to name just a few.



Marion Leary

Science geek. Passionate abt Philly, resuscitation, social media, scicomm, innovation, art, & helping others. http://marionleary.strikingly.com