Back in the mid-1980s singer-songwriter Bob Geldof, from the Irish new wave band the Boomtown Rats, penned a song called “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” He wrote it to bring attention to the famine in Ethiopia, and recruited a Who’s Who of British and Irish artists – Boy George, Sting, Bono, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and many more – to record a studio version, and later perform it live at Wembley Stadium.
The song, which raised more than $24 million, is a happy tune filled with hopeful, holiday season lyrics:
It's Christmastime; there's no need to be afraid.
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade.
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy.
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.
But also this:
But say a prayer, to pray for the other ones.
At Christmastime, It's hard, but when you're having fun.
There's a world outside your window, And it's a world of dread and fear.
Where the only water flowing, is the bitter sting of tears.
And the Christmas bells that ring there, Are the clanging chimes of doom.
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you.
As much as I loved the tune, the lyrics made it hard to smile. I could never quite reconcile the purpose and ultimate success of the song and its happy melody with the tragedy inside those lyrics. Do we celebrate the spirit of giving and hope that this season brings, or shed a tear at all the sadness and misfortune that surrounds us, from our own neighborhoods in Boston to the millions of refugee children in Syria and so many other places around the world? Glass half-empty or half-full?
This year I found my answer. It came from right here at CTP. We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary, and are in the midst of a campaign we call 20 Years, 20 Causes, where we’ve turned our website and social media channels over to 20 amazing non-profits that we’ve come to know and have inspired us over the past 20 years. As part of the campaign, our team decided that rather than having our usual holiday party, we’d take the energy and resources and instead devote them to helping make a few children’s holidays a little brighter.
So we reached out to our friend Yi-Chin Chen at Friends of the Children-Boston, a group that identifies the children facing the highest risks in Boston (they call them Achievers) and matches them with the organization’s professionally trained staff mentors (Friends). Their goal is to transform the lives of these Achievers from kindergarten through high school graduation. We thought Yi-Chin might help us find a few children and families we could help, and she sure did. So we set out to help three children and their families, all in different ways:
- A handsome nine-year-old boy who’s spending this Christmas in a group home and without a foster family for the first time ever. All he wants for Christmas is a “Dream Day” playing video games with his Friends of the Children Mentor, who has been the only stability in his life, this past year.
- A vibrant teenage boy who lives with his aunt because there’s trouble at home. Music is his passion, so he’ll be receiving a year’s worth of guitar lessons this Christmas along with a “Dream Day” of paint-balling and pizza with his Friends of the Children Mentor, who has helped make school a top priority this year despite all the uncertainty.
- A bright, engaging 10-year-old girl who lives with her loving grandmother and three siblings, all in a cramped, subsidized apartment, where necessities like food and furniture are scarce. With lots of help from Yi-Chin and Friends, our CTPers gave her apartment a full makeover in less than 24 hours, including paint, furniture and some well stocked bureaus and fridge. So when her Friends of the Children Mentor visits every week, there’s now a place to sit and do homework. Here’s how it all happened.
I share all this not because it makes us any different than the thousands in Boston and around the world who will help someone less fortunate this holiday season. I share it because I now know that though there may be a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear, thanks to my amazing CTP colleagues and inspiring organizations like Friends of the Children-Boston, the next time I hear “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I’ll be reminded that in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.