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04 December 2007

The Christmas Kettle - from humble beginnings to worldwide respect.

In 1891, a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area's poor. But how would he pay for the food?

From his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, the captain remembered a large pot, displayed on the Stage Landing, called "Simpson's Pot," where passersby would toss in charitable donations. The captain presented his idea to city authorities and received permission to place a similar pot at the Oakland ferry landing at the foot of San Francisco's Market Street. In its conspicuous position, the pot drew the attention of people going to and from the ferryboats. Another urn, in the ferryboat waiting room, also attracted donations. Thus, Captain Joseph McFee launched a tradition that spread not only throughout the United States, but around the world.

By Christmas 1895, 30 Salvation Army Corps throughout the West Coast area were using the kettle. That year, The Sacramento Bee published a description of the Army's Christmas activities and mentioned the contributions. Two young Salvation Army officers, William A McIntyre and N J Lewis, instrumental in the original use of the kettle, took the idea to the East Coast.

In 1897, McIntyre prepared his Christmas plans for Boston around the kettle. McIntyre, with his wife and sister, set up three kettles at the Washington Street thoroughfare in the heart of the city. That year the kettle effort in Boston and other locations nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.

In 1898, The New York World hailed The Salvation Army kettles as "the newest and most novel device for collecting money". The newspaper also observed, "There is a man in charge to see that contributions are not stolen". In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Today, families are given grocery vouchers so that they can buy and prepare their own dinners at home. The homeless poor are still invited to share holiday dinners and festivities at hundreds of Salvation Army centres.

Kettles now are used around the world. Everywhere, public contributions to the kettles enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas to people who would otherwise be forgotten — the aged and lonely, ill, poor and disadvantaged, or inmates of jails and other institutions. Kettles have changed since then, but the same Salvation Army message — "Sharing is Caring" — still supports this timeless, enduring programme.

Article originally published on the SA-V (Salvation Army Volunteer) Bulletin
November 2007 © All Rights Reserved