Does Christmas Increase Seasonal Altruism?

The holidays are nearly here — and ‘tis the season of giving! You’ve made a list and checked it twice. But does your favorite charity get a spot?

Christmas carols sing of peace on earth and goodwill toward our fellow humans. Do these sentiments translate to increased charity? Here’s the skinny on seasonal altruism — may it make you feel more positive and inspired to give back.

What the Statistics Say

According to research from the University of Notre Dame, roughly a quarter of annual donations pour in during the final few weeks of the year. That figure implies that people do participate in seasonal altruism.

However, habits vary widely among individuals. While 14% of people say that they step up their giving during the holidays, 23% say they donate less. Those who earn over $100,000 a year are most likely to give less during the festive season.

Few differences exist between the genders when it comes to giving. Likewise, people of all age groups are equally likely to give. However, folks in the northeast are the most likely to kick their donations up a notch during the festive season — so much for “thrifty Yankee” stereotypes.

However, it does seem that traditional folk wisdom holds. Those who have the least tend to give the most, at least as a percentage of their income. Such folks are more compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others. High-earners apparently need to rewatch “A Christmas Carol” or risk a visit from three spirits.

Why People Give More During the Holidays

Several widely practiced religions have December holidays, and most encourage charity as part of their moral code. Therefore, it’s apparent why the faithful amp up their giving this time of year.

Those who attend services see the collection basket circulate — sometimes more than once in a sitting. They also hear the Word from the pulpit that failure to behave generously in this life won’t win them any favors in the next.

However, not everyone follows a specific creed — or any at all. What motivates those who don’t fear eternal damnation to give more?

Part of the reason lies in psychology and evolution. Human beings didn’t evolve without fangs and claws in a hostile world by chanting the mantra of bootstrapping and rugged individualism. People today owe their existence to altruism — the tendency to band together against a common threat, be it a menacing lion or a long, hungry winter.

When you perform acts of kindness, your brain’s pleasure center rewards you for doing so. You release a flood of feel-good neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine.

As a result, giving is a win-win proposition. You walk away with less stress and an improved sense of well-being. And your recipient enjoys the fruits of your generosity.

Another reason why people give more at year’s end has slightly less to do with seasonal altruism and more to do with tax planning. Those preparing to file their income taxes may need to maximize their charitable contributions to claim the deduction.

Finally, old-fashioned peer pressure plays a role in seasonal altruism. Think about it. If you go shopping with a friend, and they slip $5 into the Salvation Army tin, aren’t you more likely to follow suit?

You don’t have to be accompanied by a generous friend to feel inspired to give. Every time you turn on the TV, you’ll see ads inspiring you to make recurring contributions to animal and child welfare. Most Christmas movies and specials include a message about the power of giving.

Ideas for Increasing Seasonal Altruism

If you want to increase your giving this holiday season, what can you do? Here are three ways to make an impact.

1. Make Blessing Bags for the Homeless

Imagine how you would feel if all you had to look forward to this season was shivering and scorn. Why not make life a little easier for those who lack shelter by making blessing bags for the homeless? Keep them in your vehicle so that you can distribute them whenever the opportunity arises.

Exercise wise judgment when selecting items to include. Warm socks, gloves and hats are always welcome — seek quality products instead of inexpensive dollar store items that quickly develop holes. When choosing snacks, choose products that melt in your mouth like crackers or soft granola bars. Many members of this population have dental issues that make chewing difficult.

2. Find Volunteer Opportunities

Soup kitchens flood with volunteers on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. To make your work more meaningful, sign up for a shift that doesn’t fall on the holiday itself.

Why? Because these organizations often find themselves short-handed at other times of the year. Plus, you have more of an opportunity to get to know the individuals you help.

3. Write Out a Check — or Make a Recurring Gift

Not everyone can drive around distributing bags or stand up long enough to scoop out turkey and stuffing. You can’t go wrong with a monetary gift.

If you have the means, you can set up a recurring monthly contribution to a cause you support. If your pockets extend deeper still, a charitable trust can continue your giving legacy long after you depart.

Does Christmas Increase Seasonal Altruism? Yes.

Seasonal altruism is real, it turns out. Overall, giving increases in the last few weeks of the year. Find a way to make your contribution today!