Lessons from the Grinch

Recently my husband said of our youngest child, “You should hear Liam talk about Christmas. He’s so full of holiday spirit—it’s just nice to talk to him about it.”

“I can’t talk to anybody about Christmas right now,” I snapped back. “I am so behind on shopping.”

As soon as I said it, I thought: Wow. I am becoming the Grinch.

I thought about that moment a few days later when the resource specialist in our clinic, a wonderful woman who helps families find things like food, shelter and other necessities, took me aside. Could I write a blog, she asked, about how Christmas is about more than just the gifts? She was being bombarded (my word, not hers) by requests from families for gifts for their kids.

I’d be happy to write about how Christmas isn’t just about the stuff—except these days, it kind of feels like it is. I really am the Grinch.

Every year, the stores start stocking the shelves with Christmas things earlier. This year, some places had them mixed in with Halloween decorations. I get it: this is when they make the big bucks. I don’t blame them for going at it with gusto; it’s a bottom-line thing.  But I wish we didn’t all get so sucked up into the marketing machine.

As the calendar turns and it’s suddenly December, the to-do (read: to-buy) list mushrooms. Relatives, teachers, coaches, guitar and piano teachers, dog-walker, mailman…there are Christmas cards to buy and send, decorations to get out of the attic, a tree to buy and decorate…every day, more seems to go on that list than come off it. Not only is it expensive, it’s really stressful.

It also has a way of spoiling things. I am so busy getting the stuff ready that I’m not relaxing with family the way I’d like…and we spend so much on the stuff that there’s not much left over for charity.

I could just not do it, I know. I could Just Say No to holiday expense and stress. I could get each of my five kids one thing (Liam makes a point of asking Santa for the expensive things, instead of me, which is very sweet of him). I could make cookies for everybody else, skip cards and decorations and call it a day.  Christmas could be church and dinner at my mother-in-law’s, with maybe resting by the fireplace and a game of Scrabble.  I could take all the money I saved and write a check to a worthy charity.

Yeah, right. That would go over big. I don’t think it would help if I tried to explain that I wanted to get back to basics and re-find the point of Christmas. Everybody would think that I was cheap (except the worthy charity), lazy or both—and I’d have a bunch of sad kids.  I don’t think we would have one of those Who-ville moments, with everyone joining hands and singing yahoo-dory even though the presents were taken by the Grinch.

Although: it’s an idea. Because how do you ever figure out that it’s not about the stuff if there is always stuff there? After all, it was as he watched the singing that the Grinch had his “aha” moment:

“Maybe, Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Christmas–perhaps–means a little bit more!”

And what happened then?  Well, in Whoville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

Ultimately, it’s only about the stuff if we let it be about the stuff.

Maybe we could start small. One less gift added to the pile–and one more batch of cookies baked. One less decoration, and one more story read. One less party outfit—and one more donation to a worthy cause. One less snappish comment—and one more kindness.

Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.

Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have thee.

I am totally talking to Liam about Christmas every chance I get.