How Red Buckets Became A Symbol Of Charity At Christmas


The Wesleyan-Holiness movement

The Salvation Army is not just an international charity but a religious movement within the Protestant church. The U.S. officers are headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, and aligned with the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. The organization claims a worldwide membership of over 1.7 million adherents, known collectively as Salvationists. 

It was founded to bring salvation to the poor and hungry by meeting both their “physical and spiritual needs.” Present in 133 countries, the church operates thrift shops, shelters and disaster relief programs. While members are active all year, they are widely known for their efforts during the holiday season, when volunteers ring bells near red kettles to collect donations. 

The Salvation Army’s origins date back to mid-19th century England with a founding by minister William Booth in 1852. As the organization grew, Booth used military-style rankings to classify the group’s leadership. Members adopted military uniforms with their mission to serve others in Jesus’ name by meeting not only physical needs, like food and shelter, but also spiritual ones.

The Salvation Army expanded to the United States in 1880.

“From the very start, Booth was ready and willing to go with the army metaphor,” Diane Winston, the author of “Red Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army,” told NPR in a 2009 interview. “Initially, Booth did not want to start a church. He saw himself as an evangelical organization who would bring the poor and un-churched to other churches,” she added, but the “army” quickly became one, since many churches at the time “were not receptive to having poor people in them.”

In 2019, the Salvation Army, which is headquartered internationally in London, ran into some controversy regarding allegations over the group’s history of discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community.

David Hudson, national commander of the Salvation Army, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in November of that year dismissing the allegations.

“Why take the time to read, research and rebut when we can simply scan and swipe?” wrote Hudson, the organization’s highest-ranking U.S. official at the time. “Assumptions are regularly presented as foregone conclusions, and facts are drowned out by fiction.”

The controversy eventually faded, but the Salvation Army addresses the concerns on its website: “The Salvation Army serves everyone. With love. With hope. And without discrimination.”

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