By John W. Whitehead
Although Charles Dickens immortalized the money-loving, Christmas-hating, bah-humbuggiest of humbugs Ebenezer Scrooge in his classic A Christmas Carol, the world has always been plagued by Scrooges and Grinches so single-minded in their pursuit of money, power and control that they exhibit few qualms about stamping out acts of kindness, compassion and true charity when they arise.
This year has certainly been plagued with its fair share of Scrooges and Grinches disguised as government agents, threatening individuals with fines and arrest for such simple acts of kindness and charity as distributing free bottled water to the thirsty, giving away free food to the hungry and destitute, and making thermal shelters available to house the homeless during cold winter nights.
The latest Scrooge to dampen the goodwill that this time of year tends to bring out in many people comes from Waynesboro, Virginia, where zoning officials have gone out of their way to shut down a Christmas tree farmer’s big-hearted efforts to raise money to buy wigs for cancer patients by giving away his Christmas trees in exchange for donations.
For Christian Critzer, a Christmas tree farmer who lives with his wife and two children in Waynesboro, the Christmas tree donation drive was his way of paying it forward: a way to show his gratitude for his wife having recently won a battle with breast cancer and inspire hope in those still fighting their own battles and dealing with the aftermath of cancer.
Using what he knows best—Christmas trees—Critzer focused his efforts on raising money for the “Fight Like a Girl” campaign at the Charlottesville, Va.-based Martha Jefferson hospital, a fund for cancer survivors to buy custom wigs as they recover from their long battles with cancer and chemotherapy. The donations are specifically intended to subsidize the purchase of people buying custom wigs while dealing with cancer treatment. As Critzer learned through his wife’s own battle with cancer from this time last year, wigs—often a necessity for women who’ve lost their hair because of chemotherapy treatments—aren’t covered by insurance.
Using his front yard on a busy street as the staging ground, Critzer attempted to first sell the trees, with the hopes of giving the proceeds to the cancer fund. That all changed when Waynesboro zoning officials threatened Critzer with a citation for operating a commercial enterprise in a residentially zoned area. Determined to do his good deed, Critzer decided to give the trees away, asking a donation in return. “People are hurting,” said Critzer. “A free tree is a blessing. So we decided we’ll offer them for free. If people can afford a donation, that’s what we’ll give to the cancer center, and problem solved.” Unfortunately for the Christmas tree farmer, Waynesboro zoning officials didn’t agree and cited him for violating the city’s zoning ordinances.
The Critzers live on Rosser Avenue, one of the busiest roads in Waynesboro, adjacent to big box stores like Walmart and Martins. According to Critzer, the big Martins sign shines its light through his window 24 hours a day, so it’s not as if his Christmas tree drive is bringing an unusual amount of traffic to the area. Nor does his little “tree lot” seem to be overly distracting. Around this time of year, lots of people tend to go all out, decking their houses and populating their front lawns with so many lights, holiday figurines and blow-ups as to start their own Christmas spectacular. In comparison, Critzer’s front lawn is almost stark, with little more than a string of lights, a small assortment of Christmas trees and a simple sign encouraging donations in exchange for the trees.
Despite Critzer’s various attempts to find a solution that would allow him to keep the tree drive going, Waynesboro officials were adamant that he should shut it down, going so far as to threaten his landlord with fines and issuing a cease and desist order against Critzer. Not wanting to cause his landlord hardship, and not wanting to be a burden to his wife and two children, Christian took down the trees, the lights and the signs. His goal of raising $1000 for the cancer fund remains unrealized and his hopes of paying it forward have been dashed. At least for this year, unless The Rutherford Institute, which has come to Critzer’s defense, can work their own Christmas miracle. Either way and to his credit, Critzer insists that next year, he’ll be back with 100 Christmas trees.
So what’s the lesson to be learned here? Is it that no good deed goes unpunished? Certainly, in an age of bureaucracy and overcriminalization, it can seem that way. Is the problem, as Critzer suggests, that the government needs to revisit its priorities and focus on solving the real problems plaguing communities rather than creating problems where there are none? There’s definitely something to be said for that. “There’s a lot going on in this town that needs attention,” said Critzer. “I don’t think it’s my cancer charity.”
Then there’s Charles Dickens’ reminder, offered up in A Christmas Carol, that it’s never too late to make things right in the world and try to be better people and, most importantly of all, pay your blessings forward. Whether you do it, as Critzer did, by raising money for a charity, or as Scrooge did it, by repenting of his greed, selfishness and bah humbuggery and looking out for those in need, the point, my friends, is to do it now before it’s too late, not just at Christmastime, but always. As Dickens writes, “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.