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It’s About Giving, Not the Gifts

There was a little girl who woke up on Christmas morning to find a bike and some Polly Pockets all set out for her nicely by Santa. But she took one look at this elaborate set up and immediately started to cry, then she ran back into her room. Her mom and dad were flabbergasted by the incident and worried. Had she hurt herself? Was she scared? Or was it something altogether different. Her parents ran back into her room to investigate the problem. They had to understand the tears, and their daughter was very forthright. She simply stated that Santa hadn’t listened and had gotten the wrong Polly Pockets. The parents were destroyed. Their daughter did not understand the true meaning of Christmas, and worst of all, she appeared to be on an express train to Spoiledville. To their knowledge, it was not a ticket they had purchased…she was on a solo ride, and they needed to stop it immediately. Thus became a plan for sharing and celebrating the season and the giving, and not the gifts.

The parents explained as calmly as they could to the little girl how and why her behavior was not acceptable, and that many kids all around the world did not receive any gifts, much less the kind of gifts she did. Then they told their daughter that if she continued her behavior, she would have to give her gifts away. Yes, they said it and they meant it. On one hand, she was only three years old and didn’t really get what Christmas was all about yet. But on the other hand, the parents were a bit embarrassed by her reaction and very disappointed about where this attitude was heading. They were prepared to stick to what they said to help her understand the true spirit of Christmas, the reasons behind the season, in a big way. She had to understand that the season is about giving, not receiving.

But to the parents surprise, delight, and relief, their little girl bucked up and changed her attitude. She did a 180-degree turnabout that Christmas day, thanking and hugging each family member after opening their gift to her without prompting. She came to understand how Santa made an honest mistake with her Polly Pockets and how it didn’t really matter anyway. She learned should be thankful and grateful NO MATTER WHAT.

That Christmas four years ago stuck with the parents, and as their child got older and her list got longer, the worry regarding expressing the “reason and not the gifts” built more and more every December. At every turn, the parents have reminded their little girl that perfection is a ridiculous expectation of anyone, Santa and herself included. They have made sure to read several books about the meaning behind Christmas giving and to reinforce that the Christmas spirit should be carried within us every day. However, this year they realized they had a reason to be a bit worried. There was a moment during their December shopping when the little girl wanted a nail painting set that she was giving her cousin for Secret Santa. To her mom, her reaction was less than ideal, so she said to her seven-year-old daughter, “It is extremely important for you to understand this very clear message. Christmas is about GIVING, NOT RECEIVING. You should be surprised to have any gifts and be so thankful if/when someone gives one to you. The joy in this holiday is about the sharing of love and giving thanks. It is about expecting nothing.” The little girl changed her tune quickly, but her mother was left with a bit of uncertainty.

Then on Christmas morning, out popped this little head, reluctantly at first making sure it was in fact morning before making her grand entrance. She smiled, rubbed her eyes, and said the magical words — not, “Where are my gifts?” — but “Merry Christmas, mom!” Then she squealed with joy at Santa’s gifts. With a huge smile on her face, the little girl handed her brother his gift first, and to her parents it was magical! There were unsolicited hugs and thank yous, no tears and no complaints. Our little girl cherished the joy on everyone’s faces as they opened the gifts that she picked out for them.

Some kids get it right away and others need a nudge, a strong lead, or even a pull to fully understand the true meaning of Christmas. But when they finally get it, and you witness their little faces light with joy from giving, that’s the best gift of all.

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