Like a supermarket trolley careering down the aisle, we hurtle out of control from Black Friday to Cyber Monday today. Both these dates in the calendar came as a surprise to me. The sales used to start on Boxing Day.
There is no point in tracing the history of these festivals back to their ancient origins though according to one disturbing account Black Friday started when slaves were sold at a discount to help their owners chop the wood needed to survive the rigours of winter. They are just a commercial ploy to kick start the Christmas shopping season. They have taken off because we love a bargain.
The CASC-aid campaign estimates we spent £22bn on Christmas last year or £1000 per family. It recommends halving the Christmas present budget and giving the difference to charity and redeem the real spirit of Christmas.
There is an opportunity to do so tomorrow. It is Giving Tuesday; another idea imported from the United States by the Charities Aid Foundation and running for the first time on this side of the pond.
You have not heard of it? Giving Tuesday has not been promoted in the same way and details are hard to find. Apparently not everyone in the charity world was in favour of another gimmick imported from the States to get us to give. Even so, why not take the opportunity to donate your winter fuel allowance to the Surviving Winter Fund at the Community Foundation?
I remember being interviewed for the job of running the Community Foundation in 1988 on the same day as first Red Nose Day. I wondered whether to walk into the room sporting a red nose. Both these American ideas to raise money have confounded the sceptics and been phenomenally successful.
Sometimes the gimmick is more important than the cause. One in six people in this country accepted the ice bucket challenge. But only 10% of those drenched in cold water actually made a donation to the nominated charity, Motor Neurone Disease Association. They still raised £7m in a fortnight.
Charitable gifts are also becoming part of the social currency. I the last few weeks, I have made a donation to West End food bank in lieu of a birthday present; sponsored a young friend for a day on her forthcoming gap year project, and supported a an executive colleague sleeping rough. What goes round comes around the next time I am raising money.
If there was any point in Giving Tuesday as an alka selzer of the themed commercial days, it would be to slam the cash till draw shut and cut up the credit card. Get some balance back into how we use money and remember that there is always a 100% discount on anything you don’t buy. There is more satisfaction in giving than in buying.
Will Giving Tuesday be at the forefront of the Chancellors mind as he puts the finishing touches to his much trailed Autumn statement. We have waited so long that Autumn has turned into Winter by my reckoning.
Lets hope that his give aways include duelling the A1 at last. I admire Anne Marie Trevelyan’s long running campaign but, as I live in the Tyne Valley, I am more excited about Guy Opperman’s call to dual the A69 and electrify the Newcastle Carlisle railway. We all want investment in our back yard and this would make West Northumberland a more attractive business location. The bonfire of the pacer trains cannot come too soon for me.
It is a crying shame that the big vanity projects like Crossrail stay in the South East; that HS2 stops in Manchester and the Northern Powerhouse is only lighting up the M62 corridor.
Public works are all well and good up to a point. Keynes suggested the unemployed should dig holes in the ground and fill them with gold and did them up again. In this case, there is just a sniff of electioneering. If the Chancellor really wants my vote next May, here is what he has to do.
Feed the poor and allow them to heat their homes. No one is congratulating the Food Bank in the West End of Newcastle for being the most visited in the country. Despite what the critics may say, new research from Oxfam shows that food banks are thriving primarily because welfare payments are delayed and denied. King Wenceslas will not be on the march this Christmas.
Listen to Nick Forbes, and stop strangling local authorities. Nick may be The Journal’s favourite pin up boy, but reading his interview in the Guardian last week, which the Chancellor may have missed, I was stuck by the personal bravery of the man and his determination to carrying on fighting for public services.
There is so little public sympathy or political support for stemming the horrific level of cuts in council budgets. We may have decried the comparison with Detroit but the reality of bankrupt councils unable to care for vulnerable children is fast approaching.
Scrap Trident. It is the ultimate vanity project, costing £100 billion over 25 years for no practical purpose. It may give us a seat at the table but it could destroy the world.
Send Tony Blair to Sierra Leone. They love him there. Give him wadges of money saved from the defense budget to build a decent health care system. The real tragedy of ebola is that the means to combat disease does not exist.
And finally, give 5% of the fortune made by the government from the floatation of Virgin Money to secure the future of Northern Rock Foundation. It may be nimbyism but it would make Giving Tuesday really rock.
Having set out my stall for the next year, I am off for a long planned family reunion in a spot where you cannot get odds on a white Christmas. I am leaving this column temporarily in the hands of three good friends with strong radical views to keep you on your toes over Christmas.