Thinking about the true meaning of Christmas beyond the carols and eggnog filled parties, I realized Christmas is mostly about family for me. It’s about endless games of cribbage against my siblings and Dad, about board games and making gingerbread houses with my nieces, about baking with my mother and just being together as a family. And it got me thinking about Christmas classics, the stories that get told and retold at Christmas, about family traditions and traditional Christmas books.
But what makes a book a Christmas Classic? Why does my Dad read us O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi every year? And why do we look forward to hearing it? We know the story. How does Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol remain a holiday must read? Why am I always so happy when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes in How the Grinch Stole Christmas? What is it about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it to my nieces? And how does the original Christmas Story, of Jesus, Mary and Joseph still fill me with wonder?
I’ve come to realize that the classic Christmas books and stories I have come to cherish, and I suspect you have too, are also about family. Sometimes it’s unconventional families, like all the Whos down in Whoville, but they are stories about love and togetherness, about sharing the joy of family, as the Cratchits do with Scrooge, and about giving of yourself to please the people you love like the couple in The Gift of the Magi.
The essential parts of the most classic of Christmas stories are how they connect people to each other. It’s not about gifts or toys, it’s not about the “presents! The ribbons! The wrappings! The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!”* They are about togetherness and love. So, in the rush to Christmas this year during the most harrowing of times when you’re at your wits’ end and tearing your hair out because you can’t figure out what to buy for the last few people on your Christmas list, take a moment and a breath to consider what really matters this Christmas. And maybe what you’re looking for is in a classic Christmas story, or is the classic Christmas story itself.
*From How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss