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Posted on Dec 23, 2017

Nature or nurture? The holidays and the impulse to give: Column

By Dave Burgess

Walking into a retail establishment a couple of weeks ago, I passed by the familiar red kettle at the store entrance. I heard the bell ringing and remembered that I had deposited a little donation in a similar kettle a few days earlier and would pass by this kettle this time.
My attention was drawn to the movement of a small person in the passageway and then a scene that could have been in a heart-warming Christmas movie. It was just a passing observation as I walked into the store, but it put me in the Christmas mood and got me thinking.
Ahead and next to the candy machines were some shoppers on their way out: a little girl – I’m guessing she was around age 4 or 5 – with a woman, who was probably the girl’s mother, and a cart. Suddenly, the girl walked away from her mother and toward the red kettle, which was at least 10 feet away, her arm outstretched. She must have had a coin in her hand.
The mother was closing her purse and let out a startled “Oh!” as the girl stepped away.
The Salvation Army kettle attendant said something sweetly to the girl, and the mother laughed.
I think the coin was not initially intended for the kettle. I think the mother had given her daughter a coin to put in one of those brightly colored machines full of tantalizing candy and miniature toys that tumble out with a twist of the shiny handle. Perhaps the girl had behaved well during shopping and a coin for a gumball was to be her reward. But she had a different idea and put that coin in the red kettle.
The holiday season has become synonymous with giving, a time of the year in which tradition encourages the individual to place others above self, to give gifts and donate to charitable causes.
But how does a young child know that? Where did that little girl’s impulse to give come from? Was it “nurture” or “nature”? Was she born with a giving personality, or was it a lesson that been taught many times and that had made an impression on her?
She probably didn’t know much about the traditional red kettles. Perhaps her mother had at some point while shopping that day or during a previous shopping trip answered a curious question from the girl about why the bell was ringing and what people were doing when they stopped to put things in the red kettle.
Was this the most selfless thing the little girl did all year? Would most people feel like giving if it weren’t a tradition at this time of year?
Maybe she just wanted to do what she had seen grownups do – drop coins in a kettle.
I didn’t stop to find out, but continued on with a smile and a renewed appreciation for the traditions we celebrate.
Happy holidays!

Dave Burgess is the editor of The Quincy Valley Post-Register and can be contacted at