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“Getting” gets a raw deal at the holidays if you ask me. Everybody’s supposed to embrace the joy of giving, and woe betide the receiver who admits to liking that part too much.

I guess I’m as guilty of putting that pleasure in the penalty box as anyone, banging on as I do year after year about natural generosity: “Receiving is all too familiar to [kids],” I wrote a few years back. “They are constantly in the receiving role. We give them food, clothing, and everything else they need. But give kids a chance to step outside the receiving role and experience the satisfaction of being the generous one and they vibrate with excitement. They feel grown up. It empowers them.”

Well that’s true, and very cool. But it’s time to restore getting to its rightful place as well.

First of all, if giving is the only end of the transaction to celebrate, and receiving is this unseemly and slightly bad-smelling thing to do, then the act of giving is a bit tainted by the fact that it puts the recipient in a compromising position just so I can be all splendid and selfless. But there’s an even better reason to rehabilitate receiving. As the last of the gifts were opened in our house on Christmas morning, I sat with the same two thoughts I always have at that moment each year:

1. “Seriously, what is it with me and Little Smokies? I’m gonna be violently sick. Ooh lookie, three more.”

2. “Gaww, I just love these people.”

I love my family all year round, but I must admit there’s this extra little glow on Christmas morning as we regard each other from atop our hills of presents. And I realize every year, then forget again every year, that it has to do not just with what I gave, but what I got — and it’s not about greed.

I didn’t feel warm and fuzzy sitting there with my gifts just because I was now the owner of wooden picture frames, a laptop lap pad, a shoji floor lamp for my office, a quarter-zip sweater, and about six pounds of good coffee. I felt warm and fuzzy because of the demonstration we’d just had of our care for each other.

Owning the lap pad is a lovely thing, but I could have bought it myself. I actually had enough credit card and Internet to make it happen on my own. But this one came to me not because I pointed and clicked, but because my youngest child had seen me struggling in my recliner with three books, a laptop, and a cup of coffee, made a mental note, and excitedly gave me something that showed how much she notices and cares about me. That, more than the thing itself, is why I gave her such a tight hug after I opened it.

I also had the unfettered ability to buy my own shoji lamp. Instead, Becca had heard me cooing over the lamp at my sister-in-law’s, remembered, and got it for me. And so on with the sweater, the frames, the coffee.

I had done the same for each of them too, doing my best not just to put something in their hands, but to show that I had listened, and cared, and made an effort. And each of them had done the same for each of the others. So by the end of the morning, we were sitting not just amidst our new stuff but in a web of tangible kindnesses we had done for each other.

THAT is one of the big reasons I feel so darn lovely every Christmas morning. And yes, it’s partly because the getting is good.

(Comic panel from Beaver and Steve by Clay Yount.)
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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.