Here at Valley's End this giving is usually combined with a jolly occasion for meeting villagers, drinking mulled wine, eating mince pies and buying home-made cakes, jams and chutneys, 2nd hand books and useless recycled gifts. Most of us have a box under the stairs or in the attic labelled "items to be donated to charity", also known as 'white elephants'. I admit that I no longer buy recycled knick-knacks, but I am happy to splurge on cakes and jars of jam. Unfortunately the best have usually gone by the time I get there.
These events can take place indoors and outdoors. "Punch 'n' Pies", in aid of Arthritis Research, one of the earliest in December, is held at a private house, generously opened by a village couple for the occasion. Believe me, on a day in December when there is gritty, salty snow about and everybody turns up in rubber boots and large wet coats, that is truly generous. Boots and coats are deposited in a heap on the bottom part of the stairs, making it impossible to climb up or down them. At least fifty people come and go throughout the morning, fishing for sticks, boots and coats. It's all very jolly and impromptu.
And like everything as jolly and impromptu as this it requires a lot of hard work and preparation.
First stop when you get in is the table where you pay your entrance fee and buy raffle tickets. A charitable event at Valley's End without a raffle is unheard of, be the event a coffee morning, a church bazaar, a bring-and-buy; in fact, wherever more than five people get together at any one time, you can be sure there's a raffle. It's one of the reasons Valley's End is so good at raising money; that, and the kind hearts of its inhabitants. The prizes are set out on the table, all of them donated, of course; apart from the obligatory bottle of wine, the hastily potted up plant and the box of chocolates, prizes are of the recycled kind, albeit rather more expensive in the first place than the ones on the white elephant table.
A wine glass full of mulled wine comes included in the entrance fee, as does the mince pie. A large saucepan sits on the cooker warming the drink. As Punch 'n' Pies happens in the morning the term 'mulled wine' is a touch optimistic; wine only plays a very minor role in this concoction. it's more likely to be fruit punch with one bottle of wine to three bottles of fruit juice. Even so there are good Methodist ladies and gentlemen who will forego this refreshment and opt for pure juice instead. As you can see the cup bearer dips his measuring jug into the saucepan and pours a measure into the glass, no standing on ceremony here.
Mince pies galore, wherever you look; on the sales table, as well as being offered round and eaten by everyone while they are standing talking. Mince pies are obligatory during the whole of the season. Personally, I can't stand them. Mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, can't stand any of them. too sticky and sickly sweet for my pickled herring palate. To each his own.
But I do like the book table which is the last stop. I often get lucky. This time I found Richard Russo's Straight Man, a hardback copy of Scribbling Women, a compilation of Short Stories by 19th Century American Women and a thin book of mostly 19th Century English Naive Paintings. Perhaps the book is thin because not many naive paintings were good enough to be published. After all, they didn't have Blogs in those days.
Charitable giving can be such a cold, soulless, from 'high on low' affair. This way you come away warmed by the general good spirits, a lovely gossip, and the satisfying feeling of having done good, while enjoying yourself.
Congratulations all round!