For Release December 21, 1999

Confessions of a Former Scrooge

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

As I was growing up, Christmas was a very special time. In our family, the presents and the gift giving and the revelry took second place behind the true meaning of Christmas. Oh, the presents were foremost in my mind, at that time though. We would open them up on Christmas Eve, after we had the Swedish dinner that included lutefisk, potato sausage, Swedish rye bread and pickled herring, and after all the dishes were done and after my father had read from the Bible. Believe me, when youíre 8 or 9, thatís a lot of "afters"!

But as I grew on through high school and into college, Christmas started to become much more commercialized, and I started to become quite disillusioned with the whole gift giving insanity. It seemed that everywhere I turned, all you would see was children and adults with the "gimme gimme gimme" look in their eyes. I was disgruntled and unhappy. If that was what Christmas was, then I wanted no part of it. You could go right ahead and celebrate Christmas your way, just leave me alone to celebrate it my way.

It saddens me to report that in some ways, that part of Christmas hasnít changed. But I have. After I graduated from college and got a job (this job) I started to realize quite a few things about Christmas, and life. And appropriately enough it started happening about the time that I got involved in the Little Theater's production of A Christmas Carol. I had to learn a lot of things all over. I had to learn to look at life as a child again and to view the wonder of the Christmas story as I had in years gone by. I had to learn how to get caught up in the excitement that I thought would tear me apart on Christmas Eves past. I had to shed the cynicism, the satire and the disgust. I wasnít going to change anyone else, so I had to change myself.

What I finally learned was that Christmas isnít about getting, itís about giving. But itís about giving more than just presents and it has to be all year round. Christmas is about giving of yourself to your family and your community. The more you give of yourself, the more you get back. You may not necessarily get back in material possessions. What you get back is often more of the intangible types of gifts. The gift of self worth, the gift of feeling good about doing something for someone that needed a helping hand. The gift of giving your love simply because you care and not because you want anything back. If all you are ever concerned about is what "stuff" you are going to get for yourself then Iím afraid you may have a long unhappy life ahead. But if you can realize that after the essentials of life are met, every thing else is fluff, then you have made that first step.

I now love Christmas unconditionally. I love the festivity, I love the holiday atmosphere and I love the gathering together of family and friends. I start playing Christmas music in late October. Iím sure I drive a few people crazy, but the music is so joyous and so much fun. I enjoy setting up the Christmas tree and then watching my wife decorate it. I enjoy carrying on some of the Swedish family traditions and sharing them with others. I donít care what I get for a Christmas present, itís just fun to be surprised and the present often says so much about the giver.

Somebody once said that Christmas is for children. And while that may be right, Iím more inclined to say that Christmas is for the child in all of us. Because only through the eyes of a child can you truly be amazed by the beauty and the mystery and the giving of oneself that created Christmas. Happy Holidays and God bless us every one.....


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