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It's Our Turn: More is not always better

I can't believe it's all over.

After looking forward to Christmas for so long, it now seems strange to be done with it all for another year.

Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. It's fun picking out gifts and trying to surprise people. It's exciting getting everything ready in preparation for the perfect holiday. Christmas dinner is always delicious, and opening presents is even better. Yet, as great as getting gifts is, it's even more satisfying giving them to others.

But something is still missing.

I remember hearing a story on the Paul Harvey radio show about a poor family long ago who barely scratched out a living and who couldn't afford Christmas presents. I don't remember all the details, but someone gave them a single, beautiful apple a few weeks before Christmas. The family put it in the center of their table and every day the kids would look at it in mouth-watering expectation. Everyone was waiting for Christmas day when they could share the delicious treat. Finally, the day came and they cut up and gratefully shared the apple. It was the most delicious thing they had eaten in a long time. Not a scrap was wasted and even the seeds were saved. The story ended with Harvey saying that you could go to that farm today and see a beautiful apple orchard that was planted with those seeds.

It's hard for us to comprehend getting so excited about an apple. Yet, in comparison to today's electronic toys, which too quickly get tossed aside and forgotten, that one apple was really appreciated and left a lasting legacy.

That poor family was missing a lot of the things that we now consider essentials. In contrast, we have piles of presents and all the food and snacks we can eat. In fact, we have so much that it has all become almost meaningless.

But what we don't have is true gratefulness. We quickly move from one present to another without taking the time to appreciate what we receive. We emphasize quantity over quality and believe that in order to be happy we have to have "just a little more."

Christmas should be about giving, but the problem is that usually means buying something first. Unfortunately, the importance of buying - which begins on that disgusting display of greed called Black Friday - has totally eclipsed the importance of giving. Shopping has become our national sport, or maybe more correctly, our national addiction. Materialism has become our national religion. Christmas just gives us an excuse to indulge in these more.

In my family, we seem to struggle with this year after year. Every year, we say we need to limit our gift giving - and every year it seems like we buy way too much. It's not just the money, although it does get expensive. We also want our kids to learn to appreciate what they have and not feel like they are entitled to a lot of stuff. We want them to be able to appreciate one or two simple gifts.

The problem is that it's a lot of fun to give. It's fun to plan, and to watch them open and enjoy their gifts.

However, I'm also afraid that even our giving might have selfish undertones, such as projecting our own love of getting things on them, as well as wanting them to love us more because of what we give them.

Setting aside a day to give to others is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that the spirit of the season often gets all mixed up with all the problems we struggle with the rest of the year. Rather than encouraging us to set aside greed and the pursuit of more possessions, Christmas often just brings it out in new ways.

So how do we change these tendencies? We need to start by examining our beliefs, especially the idea that getting more stuff is what leads to happiness. We need to simplify our gift giving and realize that giving fewer, but more significant gifts might be better. And we need to slow down and be truly grateful for all we have and all we receive.

Even if it is just one apple.

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.