12/27/2013 05:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Reason for the Season: Have We Lost Our Way?

This year, in the days leading up to Christmas, my son was busy drawing cards for others and making presents for his stuffed animals. His Christmas list was pretty tiny: a red scooter from Santa, a train from the movie he loves, a book from the series he loves, and a puzzle that showed the world. His list for his friends and stuffed animals was far longer.


When Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas, Edem replied: a red scooter. Santa said: What else? Isn't there more? Edem's response: That's all I want from you. If you have extra, can you give it to the kids without anything?

On Christmas morning, Edem was thrilled with the few things that he had, and in the last 24 hours, I have had many thank you hugs.

Heart-melting, right?

He wasn't always that way.

In this old post, I talked about the 5-year-old Edem's immediate response on Christmas morning, the one many parents have experienced where their child just asks for more, MORE, MORE! The response leaves most of us feeling, well... crappy, for a number of reasons, most of which come down to feeling as though we have failed.

We want our children to be happy. At Christmas, those who celebrate the holiday American-style spend weeks looking for the right gifts, some even break the bank to get their child as much as possible. When our children open their gifts, and then, sitting in a pile of plenty, moan for more, we feel like we haven't done well enough. Maybe we didn't choose the right gift; maybe we didn't get enough; maybe we failed our children on a day when they are meant to be showered with gifts and left glowing in happiness. Failure #1: We let our children down.

We want our children to be well mannered and grateful. Opening a pile of gifts and then complaining for more doesn't resemble a well-mannered grateful child; it resembles a spoiled little br -- ahem -- munchkin who shows little gratitude for our hard efforts. So, there's failure #2: We aren't raising our children to behave as we think they should; instead, we are raising spoiled brats.

We want Christmas to be about more than the gifts. Having spent the majority of my last 10 Christmases in the developing world, I had the opportunity to be away from the consumerist version of Christmas that has overtaken the western world. Christmas was about people coming together, honoring the birth of Jesus, and celebrating God's amazing gift to the world: his son. The fun tradition of gift giving in honor of this day was tertiary. So when my son got caught up in the gifts, and was upset that he didn't have enough, when in fact he had way more than enough, I felt that I failed to make the reason for the season clear. Failure #3: We have diminished the meaning of Christmas.

If you are still dealing with these crappy feelings brought on by your lil' ones reaction to Christmas, know that you aren't alone, and that you aren't a failure. These responses from young children are pretty common, but we don't have to indulge them. Just as we intervene on their tantrums when in the terrible twos, we can intervene on, and condition away, the ungrateful gimmes.

Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of adults out there who never had this conditioning.

When I woke up this morning to hear the headline news that UPS failed to get packages to people on time, thus "ruining Christmas for hundreds of people," I thought: maybe we, as a collective society, have failed the season. When grown adults take on the behavior that my 5-year-old once exhibited, throwing tantrums over not having stuff on Christmas day, crying and sending out belligerent E-mails and tweets, I had to wonder where we have all gone wrong. The very fact that this was a headline news story, placed over the thousands of other newsworthy events happening in the world, made me cringe, and think that we may need to step back and gain a little bit of a broader perspective.

Is it frustrating that a company didn't deliver on time? Sure... Is it disappointing that the gift someone clearly ordered last minute didn't make it to the appropriate recipient? Sure! Is it the end of the world? Is it enough to spoil the day that is meant to celebrate the birth of the Christian Savior? I would hope not...

For me, I believe that everything happens for a reason; perhaps the weather storms that delayed the trucks were just a bit of Divine intervention. God's way of saying: "Hey, remember us?" Maybe we are supposed to learn that we can show our love without the things bought online. Going by the response of people who had delayed gifts, I have to say that many people missed these possible lessons.

I have hope for us that we can step back and reflect on how we show our love, that maybe we don't need more, MORE, MORE, and that love doesn't need to be wrapped in a box to be convincing. I have hope that we can still find our way back to the reason for the season. As Dr. Suess said in How the Grinch Stole Christmas: "The Grinch realizes Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

If the Grinch can discover the Christmas spirit, I think we can, too.