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December 17, 2014

Dear Grace: The three secrets of Christmas

A note to my six-year-old daughter, on three ways to make the holidays brighter.

Your sixth Christmas is just days away, and our home is crackling with excitement. With your brother Anthony, you are counting down the sleeps, safe in the knowledge that you’ve made it onto Santa’s list of well-behaved children. You have entered that stage of childhood for which the holidays are tailor made. You cannot conceive of the state of things as this trying year grinds to a close. You can’t imagine the enormous sense of good fortune your mom and I feel as we prepare for another happy Christmas filled with gift-wrapped indulgences. And that is as it should be.

Roller skates and a whoopee cushion are at the top of your wish list this year. We have joked about one of the elves slipping the cushion under Santa’s behind before he takes off on Christmas Eve. You laugh out loud at this; in that contagious way of yours that makes everyone glad to be with you.

Today we visited my family for the first of what will be an eventful 10 days of celebrations. It made me think of your late grandmother, your namesake. Eileen Grace would have turned 69 this Wednesday. You remind me of her in ways I expect to spend the rest of my life describing to you.

But this note is not about the past, or even the present. It is about Christmases yet to come, as Charles Dickens described them. It is about what 45 holiday seasons have taught me and what I want you and Anthony to understand about what really makes the holidays bright.

Three things.

First, be generous. Always remember that generosity comes in many forms. Be generous with your time. Be generous with the attention you pay those you love. Be generous with the affection you offer those who deserve your love. If you have the means to spend money on people you care about, be generous in that way too. Know that generosity can be expressed in many, many ways and that they are all meaningful.

Second, be grateful. Recognize the holiday season as an opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed. Take stock of the advantages we’ve been given. Take advantage of your good fortune. And remember that the ultimate expression of gratitude is to share some of what you have with those in different circumstances.

Third, be the one who brings people together. You have this in you; it’s one of the things I love most about your mom. Your talent for this will add a dimension to your family and social life all year round. But it will matter most during the holidays. People appreciate one another differently at this time of year, as they should. I expect you to live a life surrounded by people who love and admire you. Do everything you can to make that happen.

Grace, I see enormous potential in you and Anthony. You both make your mom and me proud every day. We love you. And we wish you a long life of happy holidays.

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