Bells and Red Kettles

Red KettleWho of us is not familiar with the men and women who stand outside the grocery store with a bell and a little red kettle? They are the holiday time volunteers who pace back and forth in the bitter cold, ringing their bells harshly against the backdrop of normal life, drawing attention to their cause and a slew of emotions from those around them. Some of them stare off; some stare at you. Some will walk right up to you and ask you to donate.

Here in the United States, these Salvation Army workers have become a staple of the holiday season. You can’t escape them. Their standing in the cold, begging for pennies for the less fortunate, as you push your cart with two weeks’ worth of groceries out to your car, is all designed to make you feel guilty.

Personally, they annoy the daylights out of me. Where I come from in the South, there’s a lot of bible-beating, and more than one Christian organization standing outside the Wal-Mart soliciting donations. I’ve gotten into the habit of offering one simple response when I’m asked to donate to organizations like these: “I don’t donate to Christian organizations.” Maybe it’s the little rebel in me looking to get some kind of a response, or just the Wiccan who is being truthful and honest. The concept of not supporting Christianity is foreign to a lot of people; I’ve gotten more than one jaw-dropped “What?”

salavationarmyvouchersI don’t think the general public views people or organizations who undertake this kind of fund raising with anything warmer than indifference, and yet individuals keep lining up for it. For one, it’s inefficient. A successful online campaign is much more likely to bring in needed funds than exposing people to freezing temperatures for hours at a time. For two, I take exception to the Salvation Army’s discrimination against gays and lesbian. For three, I don’t like their bells. Bells play an important role within Wiccan and Pagan rituals and spells, and their constant, harsh use turns the little magic-working devices into nothing but noise designed to get attention.

For all that these Salvation Army volunteers bother me, and I dread grocery shopping around Christmas, there’s little any one of us can do. I’ve thought about trying to talk to one of them, or start a conversation, but what will it accomplish, really? At best, you will talk to someone who agrees to disagree, and at worst you will have caused a scene. There’s no scenario in which you won’t be viewed as an attacker, and even if you walk away the victor, you won’t have changed the way the company works and you won’t have represented yourself or your beliefs well.

And yet, silence is not an acceptable course of action, either. Silence is condoning, silence is allowing others to speak for you; silence enables continuation. So this year, I will be giving the volunteers these vouchers instead of money, controversy, or any potential for public attention. They will probably throw them away at the end of the day, and I will probably not change any minds, but I will have exercised a subtle protest to the things they represent.

How do you respond to the Salvation Army workers? Do they bother you any more or less than anyone else soliciting donations?

Here is a YouTube video that sums things up well.


About Ayslyn'sCorner

I am an eclectic Pagan bordering on atheist who has made her way through a number of different spiritual spaces. You might wonder what a person self-identifying as an atheist has to discuss in a religion/spiritual context – and, well, so do I. That’s one of the things I aim to explore on Ayslyn's Corner. Check out Ayslyn's Corner at Check out Invisible Ink Blog at Check out wombs in rebellion at
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15 Responses to Bells and Red Kettles

  1. I hope my comment does not offend anyone. I quite agree with boycotting any charitable organization that has anti-gay policies. But sometimes it is almost impossible to be avoid Christian groups because they do so much charitable work. I buy most of my clothes from the Good Will and Salvation Army because of the great deals i can afford. I do give to a local group, the Bethesda Mission which is 98 years old, because when i worked in the ER they would come in and take our sobered out drunks and homeless people and they would have to work there and keep sober, so i know they do good work. So i would say give locally as much as possible, but if not then Doctor’s Without Borders and the Red Cross are always good to support.

  2. mamaraby says:

    I will not give to the Salvation Army and it bothers me that they are able to advertise their not-quite-secular after school programs in the bundle of fliers they send home with my kid at school. I won’t give to them because they discriminate and because their bands were often sent out in the early days of union organizing to drown out speakers. None of which even addresses their pseudo-military terminology. Certainly not much to like there.

    We ignore them, but your little slip of paper isn’t such a bad idea.

    • I’m not sure how I feel about the vouchers, actually, but I cannot find an alternative that lets me express my opinion without causing a scene, and of course, being silent is just encouragement, which is not the desired message at all.

  3. LC Aisling says:

    Odd is, they bother me too. In latest years, they’ve been gathering ground around here too. I feel bad not giving them and I don’t enjoy their angry looks, but I do it in purpose – I have hardly enough to support my own family. If I give to them, they will, yes, help the less unfortunate, but in truth, that “less unfortunate” will be the same guy, who goes around drunk on the street and yells at me for not giving him money for his next fix. So no. I rather give that money to help rise my niece and help keep food on the table for my family than support their drinking habit. Starte closer to home, then we wouldn’t have to give the salvation army so much of our income.

    • This is also a good point, and more and more families are having a hard enough time supporting themselves and don’t have anything to spare to help others. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  4. Shadow says:

    Wow, I have never read such crap in my life.

  5. It's a Wiccan Life says:

    Hmm I like to donate to them. I feel guilty when I see them standing there, I avert their eyes. Most of them stand inside a store they, don’t bother the shoppers. And here I am, for example today I spent my holiday pay on Christmas presents. I bought my mother a 89$ tosmio, (how ever you spell that) machine. And all I gave to the slavation volunter was two dollars from me and two dollars from my sister. They ask for funds to help buy food and gifts for people who can’t aford it. Well over here they do. Having been raised by a poor single mother who used charity on a few christmas’s for food and toys I like to be able to donate for others to be able to do the same. I don’t like beening hassled into donating or buying things.

    • I can see where if you had been on the receiving end of their work that you wouldn’t have a problem giving a little bit to them, and that in and of itself is not so bad. I totally support helping those who need it if you can afford it, my issue is what they do with the money that doesn’t go directly back into the community.

  6. Morrighan says:

    hi Ayslyn!i have nominated you for the Blog Of The Year Award 🙂

  7. Cassandra says:

    Merry meet Ayslyn,
    I hope you have a great day and I wish you great holidays, too. I have a surprise for you. 🙂 You have been awarded with the “Blog of the Year 2012” award! Congrats! 😉 Please, go over to my blog (, to find out what it’s all about.
    Blessed be,

  8. theINFP says:

    Your honesty brought a smile to my face, thank you 😮

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