Does your Christmas agenda sound at all like what a friend recently described to me? “We wrap until 1:30 in the morning on Christmas Eve and then the kids are up at five a.m. Then we have to open all the gifts as fast as the kids can get through the wrapping paper, then we have to eat breakfast; we have pack the car and then we have to head on over to the in-laws house for dinner.” That’s an awful lot of “have-tos” for the most magical day of the year.
No doubt the burdens of modern society have intruded on our enjoyment of the holiday and now distract us from slowing down long enough to enjoy and share the celebration with our loved ones. But one of my favorite things to do with my children leading up to Christmas is to watch the animated Christmas classics. I try to make a point of finding them on television and planning with them to watch the shows, rather than just popping in the DVDs we own of the same programs. I love these shows—The Year without a Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. But two of them stand out in particular. A Charlie Brown Christmas stands out for its biblical authenticity (not to mention the timelessness of the Charles Schultz characters). I revel each year in the opportunity to share this show and the true Christmas message with my children. (Honestly, I wonder how long it will be before network television decides it can no longer handle the biblical account of the Christmas story and banishes A Charlie Brown Christmas to the ash heap of political incorrectness.)
And yet, for me, another is still more highly esteemed—Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Of all the Christmas stories, this one most prominently portrays two wonderful lessons to share with your children at Christmas. First, it’s not the presents and the “have-tos” that make Christmas wonderful. Oh, the presents are fun and one day children, when they are parents themselves, will really understand that it IS better to give than to receive. But spending time with your family is the real joy–gathering and sharing, eating and slowing down long enough to realize that the gifts are but a fresh coat of paint on what has always been a beautiful house. The Grinch said,
IT CAME WITHOUT RIBBONS, IT CAME WITHOUT TAGS
IT CAME WITHOUT PACKAGES, BOXES OR BAGS….
….MAYBE CHRISTMAS, HE THOUGHT, DOESN’T COME FROM A STORE.
MAYBE CHRISTMAS….PERHAPS…MEANS A LITTLE BIT MORE!
I have said for a while that at the core of most Americans is a belief system that is strongly conservative. Not Republican-conservative, but authentically conservative. Except for the fiscal issues, we find common ground in conservative beliefs: we love this country; we love our families; we acknowledge a Creator; we value our traditions; we honor the past by remembering the service of others.
When times are good, we tend act Libertarian. But when trouble comes (and you need only look to September 12, 2001, to verify this) we revert to our conservative roots. Dr. Seuss’s Whos, too, were struck by tragedy and they, too, sought the comfort of family and community. They didn’t look to the Mayor of Who-Ville to fix the problem, nor did they shut themselves off from the other Whos. Instead, they remembered the most important things—relationships—and they gathered to celebrate that.
One great benefit of Christmas, and the real genius of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is in demonstrating the value of living out our conservative roots even when times are good. Dr. Seuss saved it for the very last page, almost an afterthought, and yet it’s the most important part of the story, which he elaborated in the television version. What the Grinch really wanted, what he’d really always longed for, was to be included. The Grinch wanted to feel like he belonged in Who-Ville and that the Whos cared for him. Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t we all just want a place where we can be ourselves and be loved?
When times are good it’s easy to forget the importance of engaging with our family and friends. We lose perspective of what’s really important and get distracted by the mundane things of our lives. But once a year, come the end of December, we are culturally forced to engage. We return to our families and our churches, we remember old holiday traditions and the people who started them. Christmas is, for most people, a good time of year (despite the self imposed stress) and yet we find ourselves drawn to our conservative roots.
As we think about who we are as Americans and as individuals it’s good to remember that at our core we are conservative, engaging, loving, caring people. We don’t really want to be left alone and we don’t really want to have to look to government to care for us. In good times or bad, we want to be a part of something, and families and neighborhoods at Christmas are great places to start.