Boots on the Ground!
Grab your gloves! Button up that heavy coat! Lace up those boots! It’s that time of year again! Now we separate the hardcore from the wannabes, the Yuletide veterans from the Christmas rookies, the Old Schoolers from the eggnog sippin’ posers.
Yeah, you’ve got your driving-to-see-the-lights, twenty-four hours of “A Christmas Story” on cable TV, maybe even taking in a Christmas pageant, but nothing, and I mean nothing, says “It’s Christmas, man!” like ringing the bell for the Good Ol’ Salvation Army. Head for the cold! We’re talking heavy tradition!
The brainchild of Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee, who on a cold December day back in 1891 turned over an unused crab pot on the San Francisco docks, and with the slogan, “Keep the Pot Boiling,” raised money to feed the hungry, to the Kettle Campaign celebrating its 118th anniversary this year, the Salvation Army is marching along!
To the inexperienced, the uninitiated, Army bell-ringing might seem to be a rather obvious and tedious task, maybe even best farmed-out to paid workers, but to the eye of seasoned old warhorse of a true kettle volunteer, a range of factors presents themselves: location, weather, kettle-craft, impression-management, and sheer commitment.
First, he/she will take a position between two doors of a store, if possible. In doing so, the bell ringer can thereby cut off his prospects as they attempt to evade the bell ringer by using another door.
The old-hand also knows that the more miserable the weather, the more bracing of a spectacle for donors who might otherwise blithely pass by a warm bellringer. Still, even the most scarred old hand will favor a station with southern exposure, so the cold will more slowly creep its way up the legs from the hard, cold concrete. Nothing like sacrifice!
Then there is the craft: the bell is politely rung with a small forearm twist-action, conserving energy and not irritating the ill-tempered and the harried. Opening a door is often a polite gesture. A smiling and cheery aspect would be advised. Moving around a bit wards off stiffness.
Impression-management is crucial. The parent-child combination is irresistible. Not only are you actually taking advantage of a rare opportunity to introduce your child into the unconditional selfless generosity that is the heart of Christmas, you also may awaken an innocence in the most hardened heart of the frantic Christmas consumer.
Also, few activities top bell-ringing in introducing the young into important lessons of life: the low-riding carful of bagging Hispanics stop and politely line up to stuff dollar bills into the kettle, shy Anglos climb out of their Mercedes and stride into the store, staring coldly straight ahead, pointedly ignoring any Christmas wishes. Suburbanites sporting North Face brands glide by without apparent sentiment, while the poorly dressed smilingly contribute to the kettle. Experienced old bell-ringers are wise to these mysteries. After all, who did Christ hang out with?
Finally, there is endurance. Sometimes, frustrated from inattention, cold feet, and weariness creeping in, it can turn on a dime: shoppers will unexpectedly turn friendly and appreciative, young children will gaze with amazement at you as they timidly contribute to the kettle and suddenly, it will all seem miraculous. Try out the tradition in your family this year: to volunteer, call 521-2151 or log on at: nwasa.volunteerfirst.com. to reserve a time slot. The faint-hearted might start with a two hour slot, but the tough go for four or more . . . Rediscover the real meaning of the season!