Teaching Kids the True Meaning Of Christmas—The Greta Grinch Way


I have an alter ego that surfaces every year around this time as I get frustrated, overtaxed, and worked up with this tradition of buying presents for Christmas. Her name is Greta Grinch. And every year, Greta asks the same questions: Did you ever stop to think who started this whole gift exchange thing during Christmas? Who came up with the brilliant idea that we:

  1. Make a list of people we like, love, respect; don’t like but we’re related to; don’t respect but we work with…
  2. Comb the depths of our souls to figure out something they need, like, won’t throw away or re-gift…
  3. Search store after store, website after website, sale after sale to find the right color, size, model, make, and price…
  4. Purchase it, package it, mail it or wrap it so each recipient can spend two minutes opening the gift all on the same day!

It’s stressful. The competition with other shoppers, the financial burden, the deadlines. Sure, you can start shopping in July. But who wants to buy a present for someone six months in advance, hide it and keep it a secret for that long?

And let’s stop pretending that Black Friday and Cyber Monday is about gift buying when it’s really an excuse – a solar gravitational pull—for us to rack up stuff for ourselves.

So, who came up with this gift buying idea anyway? Jesus?

As I remember it, when Jesus was born, people brought presents to him. Mary and Joseph didn’t have those “just-in-case” gifts lying around in the hay. The Magi didn’t bring extra gifts for Mary, Joseph, and the farm animals.

The way we celebrate Christmas doesn’t sound like the way the Magi did it at all; it sounds more like a baby shower or a birthday party. Can you imagine a birthday party where you have to bring presents for all of the guests – including the birthday boy/ girl?

And don’t get me started on the whole St. Nick thing. Oohhh there are tons of stories about where he came from (just Google it). But most of them boil down to a rich man secretly giving gifts to poor children. I’m neither rich nor poor and the majority of people on my list are not children.

So, what happened?

There was a time when there were no Walmarts—no online shopping. Christmas gifts were handmade, sweets, or even oranges. Then the manufacturing industry put women to work (who had time to make gifts?) and the advertising industry kicked in and, well, the rest is history. We now have eager gift recipients demanding Xboxes and iPads and smart phones, oh my.

My family and I were in Walmart this week and my two-year-old was batting his lashes (as usual) at an attractive young woman standing in line.  She was smitten. “What’s Santa getting you for Christmas?” she asked.

“Nothing.” He smiled. She was confused. I was proud.

I haven’t taught my kids that Christmas means they are going to get anything—whether it’s from me, their grandparents, or the big, fat bearded man dressed in red. They will get something from all of us (except from, well, you know). They are still young, so I’m focusing on teaching and enforcing the true meaning of Christmas in our home—that the holiday is about giving, not getting.

You know what Christmas is? Christmas is what happened when 60 minutes did a story on the overwhelming population of homeless kids and parents in Florida who are living out of their cars. Yeah—what do you drive? Now picture yourself and three kids living out of it—washing up in gas stations and sleeping in parking lots. It’s real. The viewership was so moved that they gave $1 million to support these families—including jobs, homes, and more. That’s Christmas.

Christmas is donating a toy to Toys for Tots or canned goods to Hosea Feed the Hungry. Christmas is a reason to deliver homemade cookies to a new neighbor. Christmas is the season of giving—from the heart.

And as for my dear Greta Grinch: I won’t be able to “make it rain” for my loved ones this year (i.e. shower them with expensive gifts) and I’m determined not to feel bad about it. I’ll buy what I can because, as I’m learning more and more, “it is what it is.”

But I’ll be surrounded by food and family and love. And for that, I’m rich Grinch!

Andrea Higgins is a married, working mom of two boys under age 5 and she loves to blog about it at www.boymomblog.com.


1. Gift-Savvy Auntie: Stating the Case for Meaningful Niece & Nephew Presents
2. Yes, Mari and Lila There Is A Santa Claus
3. {Wordful Wednesday} Black Snow Bunnies: My Babies and their Granddad On Christmas Vacation
4. Great (Thoughtful) Christmas Presents That Won’t Break The Bank

Photo credit: Yaxzone for Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. The problem with the shows that you refer to is that focusing on charity one time a year is just as bad. One should be charitable all year around and not because it’s what happens around this time of year nor because it’s WJWD. And if you are practicing charity and giving all year around, there is nothing wrong with doing the gift/Santa thing at Christmas within reason. In our house we go all out for Festivus (we are atheists) but my daughter knows that giving is an integral part of becoming a productive member of society. She is 5 and is already donating 10% of her allowance (yes, she gets an allowance) goes to charity. She knows that her parents volunteer and giveback to the community so it’s a part of everyday life. Anyway, I think there is a way to meet in the middle- to celebrate the spirit of Christmas and to get lost in the magic of season as well.

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