Thanksgiving and Christmas have always had an interesting juxtaposition on our calendars. On one holiday we eat turkey and make a point to to be grateful for all the things we’ve had in the last year and then a month later we go on a mad frenzy to buy more stuff for our friends and family--then maybe eat some more turkey. It is a shame we only carve up that festive fowl two months out of the year but it’s even more lamentful that the holidays sometimes become a burden.

Along with the toil of shopping for gifts and all the other commercial ho-hum, going home for Christmas can have its own challenges. If you feel disconnected from your family, going through the holiday traditions might seem like an act of contrivance. Conversely, if you feel alone most other times of the year, you might be celebrating Christmas with the impending return to everyday life hanging over your head.

Another thing about going through the holidays as a college student, Christmas is one more variable in the process of becoming an adult. Hopefully at this point in your life, you’re very familiar with the mantra of “it’s better to give than to receive” and you’ve tempered your expectations for the things you put on your wishlist (but you might still write down “pet dinosaur” just because). Whether or not you happen to feel conscientious in giving and receiving gifts during the holidays, the key to being both a good giver and a good receiver of gifts was emphasized a month ago: gratitude.

When you live from a mindset of gratitude, you get to enjoy gifts free of anxiety. Gratitude also lets you give to others from a place of love and less from a place of obligation. Research scientists at UC Davis have even concluded there are even emotional and physiological benefits to being grateful. I won’t get into detail about their findings (or how they chose to define a grateful person), but I will give you some practical insight to what it might look like. Gratitude can mean choosing to get gifts to the ones in your family won’t be giving you gifts in return. Gratitude can mean telling people who’ve given to you how much you like the fact they gave to you.

Being grateful around Christmas applies to more than the giving and receiving of gifts. How you choose to spend time with your family is a reflection of thankfulness. When you begin to choose to be grateful for your family, your mindset can change and thus your interactions. And it’s from the mindset of living gratefully that you’ll begin to live generously, and generosity is where thankfulness meets abundance.

The three gifts of the magi are often cited as the first Christmas gifts. Kingly in nature, they were given to Christ in an act of worship and reverence towards him. Thankfulness is one the most repeated commandments throughout scriptures and it’s almost always issued under the same pretense: because God has given us much. It’s become cliché in Christianity this time year but the birth of Jesus really is one of the greatest gifts of all time and ought to inspire us to live with thankfulness and gratitude--even in the little things.

So don’t be a stingy giver this year, but also don’t feel guilty about receiving either. The years are too short and Christmas even more so. Before you leave home--or go back, depending on how you see it--don’t take any of this time for granted. Christmas comes but once a year.


Author | Justin Patton