This idea isn’t novel; it’s been around forever.
Major (later Commissioner) John Carleton’s generosity was seemingly small in 1886, but because it came from his whole self, it still has rippling effects to this day.
A Call For Help
At the time, General William Booth—the founder of The Salvation Army—spoke in London’s Exeter Hall, asking for pledges. These would help the Army to extend its missionary efforts around the world. There were many well-off people in the meeting, and it wouldn’t have been too hard to gather a solid amount of money to help the cause.
Sitting in the meeting was John Carleton, who wasn’t wealthy. He was already living on a shoe-string budget, and whatever he could offer would seem like a mere drop in the bucket at the end of the day.
The Canary Sings
Yet, this didn’t stop his caring heart. On a yellow pledge card—which they humorously referred to as “canaries”—Carleton wrote:
“By going without my pudding every day for a year, I calculate I shall save fifty shillings. This I will do, and will remit the amount named as quickly as possible.”
When Booth saw this and read it at the podium, he was beyond moved by Carleton’s generosity. This man, who had extremely little, was willing to deny himself the little he did have—something he enjoyed—for the sake of helping others. Though his donation was “smaller,” it was given with a greater sacrifice, and Booth was the most impressed with his humble card.
It was simple, yet genius. Carleton’s canary inspired a movement.
Let There Be Pudding
“They need all the food they get, and probably more, in order to perform the duties which devolve upon them,” Booth said about his officers. He was touched by the pledge, but didn’t want anyone to go without their pudding for a whole year.
After the meeting, a letter arrived at International Headquarters. It read:
“I was at your Meeting at Exeter Hall and agree with you that your Officers should not be asked to go without their pudding for a year. In order that the Officer who filled in that interesting ‘canary’ may not have to do this, I enclose you a [check] for fifty shillings. Please let him have his pudding.”
The Lightbulb Moment
“There’s an idea here,” Booth said. “While it is quite true we ought not to ask our people to go without anything for a whole year, I see no reason why we should not ask them to unite in going without something every day for a week, and to give the proceeds to help on the work we have on hand.”
Carleton’s little canary sparked the beginning of Self-Denial Week, which became an annual event. The first one, held exclusively in the United Kingdom in 1886, raised nearly 5,000 pounds (about $24,000).
Today, Salvationists still participate in Self-Denial Week to support humanitarian work in countries where resources are limited. The gifts that come from Self-Denial Week are not only thoughtful and generous, but are given in the spirit of whole-hearted and sacrificial love.
What’s With All The Gifts?
Christmas is a time of giving. We’re reminded of St. Nicholas who inspired the character of Santa Claus. We think of beautiful boxes tied up with bows under a glittering Christmas tree. But have you ever stopped to think about why we give gifts at Christmas at all?
The beautiful gifts we give one another are meant to remind us of the true and perfect gifts given to us by God: Jesus Christ and Eternal Life. When you excitedly scavenge through your stocking on Christmas morning or gasp in joy when you open up a present you’ve been wanting—it’s just a glimpse of the joy we experience with God in our lives.
The Perfect One
Christ is our ultimate gift this season and always. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17 NKJV)
God’s sacrificial love is something nothing can compare to. It surpasses all earthly joy. New and flashy presents are fun to receive, but sacrificial ones—or ones that are special for a reason other than the price tag—are always the best gifts. They are perfect.
- What perfect gift can you give Christ for His birthday?
- Is there a negative habit to give up and replace with something holier?
- Will you offer up yourself, your time, or your talents to volunteer or help someone in need?
- Could you give up some of your allowance, spare change, or salary to give to a good cause and support God’s children?
Will you invite Him into your life, praising and thanking Him with your whole heart?
Mariam Aburdeineh, Editorial Assistant