“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!” ― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
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We watched the movie versions of the classic Dr. Seuss story — both the cartoon one and the adaptation starring Jim Carrey — and the above was the message I wanted my daughter to hear most. In fact, during the cartoon version, I actually paused the movie for a short conversation.
“You see, although people get presents on Christmas for fun, that’s not what Christmas is all about,” I told her. I tried to think of the best way to make my daughter feel guilt-free for receiving gifts in the coming week while also realizing that they aren’t all that important to begin with. With a 5-year-old, this can be a challenge. “Christmas is about spending time with the people you love, like your family, and enjoying every minute you get with them.”
A back-and-forth followed about the origin of gift-giving, and even the origin of Christmas altogether, both of which I did my best to explain from my upbringing. I’m not a historian, but I know a little bit about a little bit. We ended up though right back at the gifts.
“The gifts are just another way to show people you love them, but they aren’t the only way. And not all gifts are presents wrapped up under a tree, too.”
I was confusing her even more at that point. Sometimes, with all the symbolism surrounding this holiday, you can get just a little too deep.
I simplified it to this: “We don’t have to give gifts on Christmas. We want to.”
That’s the point I’ve reached in my life, at least. I understand there’s over-commercialism ongoing, and that with young kids, we as parents are being exploited by corporations during this time of year to buy whatever cheaply made but expensively priced toy is hot on the market. It’s how these corporations get into the black before the new year. I get it.
Part of me cares, so I try to teach my kids certain lessons before we hand them their gifts: Be thankful for what you already have; don’t expect more than you can earn on your own; give to others without expecting others to give to you; etc. But part of me doesn’t care, too. Part of me just wants to see their faces light up on Christmas morning when they open something they really wanted (or have been told to want).
So I’ll get my kids toys, and a bunch of other stuff they actually need. I’ll wrap them and put them under the tree, and I’ll even let Santa take credit for bringing a few of them. But I’ll also make darned sure my kids know that what’s most important right now isn’t what they’re playing with for the next few days.
Before and after the unwrapping of gifts, my daughters will spend hours, days, a week with their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. My oldest will show family she hasn’t seen in a while the new tooth growing where she lost her first one. My youngest will demonstrate her ability to now fully perform the song “You Are My Sunshine,” hand gestures and all. They’ll both probably stay up past their bedtime watching holiday classics, stuffing their faces with goodies we try to never bring into the house otherwise.
Maybe we’ll find snow and have a snowball fight, or I can teach two little girls and their cousins how to properly throw a football. Who knows? As long as we’re all spending time together having fun, I don’t really care what we do.
Because, really, those are the gifts of Christmas. Those moments, the ones we have to wait an entire year for sometimes, are the real blessings during the holidays.
Those gifts come “without ribbons,” they come “without tags.” They come “without packages, boxes or bags.” No Grinch can steal those presents, and those lucky enough to unwrap them next week will enjoy the true spirit of Christmas.
“Christmas, children, is not a date,” American educator, teacher, scholar and author Mary Ellen Chase said. “It is a state of mind.”
Patrick Ibarra is the managing editor of the Mountain Democrat. His column appears bi-weekly.