I do not know if a study has ever been done, or if it is even possible to conduct such a one, but I truly wish that we could have a poll to determine the most common Christmas phrase, counting all the way through to the twelfth day. I would be willing to bet, from my own personal experience, that it is not “Merry Christmas,” or even all of its equivalents combined. No, I think the most frequently heard greeting during the Christmas season is, “What did you get?”
Whenever I meet my cousins at Christmas day lunch, their first question is inevitably, “What did you get from Santa?” To which I respond with all the cool things I received, listing the best first with a proper flourish, before returning the inquiry. Whenever I meet my friends in the eleven days following, at some point in the beginning of the conversation, they are bound to ask, “Hey, Tally! What did you get for Christmas?” Then we compare gifts, swap them temporarily, and each admire what the other got. I have heard this question monotonously spouted from some of the staunchest Keep Christ-in-Christmassers, and one year I began to think. Why is everyone so focused on what they received? One is not supposed to be preoccupied with what they got. And though perhaps the question is only asked to share in the newfound delights of your loved ones, why shift their focus to what they got for Christmas?
I propose a new and lesser heard Christmas phrase. “What did you give for Christmas?”
I have posed this inquiry several times with varying and interesting responses. The best are from little children who worked hard to make Mommy’s painting and are as proud to tell you of it as if they had received a million dollars and an Xbox Live. I love to watch their ecstatic expressions as they innocently tell of their selfless accomplishments. Of course, there is the risk of developing pride. This, however, is easily remedied. Just ask the question to someone who gave something really big for Christmas—like Christ. Your puny sweater will collapse beneath the weight of their response and your pride with it.
I think the perfect Christmas conversation should begin with an acknowledgement of the season (“Merry Christmas!”) then gratitude for what we received (“What did you get?”) and then a return to the true purpose of Christmas—giving (“What did you give?”). Maybe someday I’ll meet someone who, along with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, responds that they gave Christ for Christmas. Maybe someday I’ll be able to respond that I gave Christ for Christmas. At any rate, next year, I hope to make my conversation run something along those lines, and not along this year’s:
“Hey, Tally, what did you get for Christmas?”
“I’m more concerned with what I gave, Jake.”
“Okay…so what did you give for Christmas?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m concerned.”