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Two Christmases: Words from John Steinbeck on Gratitude

Written by Michael Blue on

I read a letter recently from John Steinbeck to his good friend Adlai Stevenson. This letter was written in 1959 and was Steinbeck’s attempt to express his frustration with the state of society.  He speaks of two Christmases:

There is one kind [of Christmas] in a house where there is little and a present represents not only love but sacrifice. The one single package is opened with a kind of slow wonder, almost reverence. Then there is the other kind of Christmas with presents piled high, the gifts of guilty parents as bribes because they have nothing else to give. The wrappings are ripped off and the presents thrown down and, at the end, the child says, ‘Is that all?’”

After describing these two Christmases, Steinbeck compares America to the second Christmas:

Having too many things they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy, sick.”

What I Don’t Love About Christmas

I love Christmas. I love the time with family, I love giving my loved ones gifts, I love the food, I love the church service, and I love the joy. What I don’t like about this time of year is the constant barrage of messages from everybody telling me that I don’t have enough or that my life would be better if I only had something more.

Having more does not make us satisfied, it makes us want more. Steinbeck was exactly right about society. Too much does not make us happy; it makes us miserable, greedy, and sick. If we have some, we want more.  So how do we break free from the lie of having more? 

Breaking Free: Christmas Gratitude

I believe that there are two keys to break free from this trap: (1) thankfulness and (2) generosity. When we are thankful, we acknowledge that someone or something else is responsible for what we have. This attitude leads us toward a belief that what we have is not really ours to keep, but ours to share. Through this attitude of thankfulness we begin to desire generosity above greed. More is no longer enough or even sought after. More may come in, but that just means more can go out.

Let’s all adopt an attitude of thankfulness and generosity this holiday season so that our Christmas can be filled with wonder and gratitude instead of greed and want. There is only one gift that we will ever receive that will bring lasting satisfaction.  That is a gift given to us over two-thousand years ago. It is the reason for the season, and it will always bring wonder and gratitude. It is the gift of Jesus.

A version of this article was originally published at

Michael Blue

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