"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
November 5, 2013
Grammar Time
by Melissa Howell

Shortly before my birthday late last month, my 10-year-old son asked me an important question:

“Mom, is there something you want for your birthday that doesn’t cost a lot of money?”

I went with an answer that I expect is given by many mothers in response to such a question: “I just want everyone to get along and not fight.”

Not only does that not cost much money; it is perfectly free!

However, my son clearly was not pleased with my answer.

“But, mom,” he replied, “isn’t there a noun gift you’d like instead of a verb gift?”

I like some noun gifts, absolutely. But the older I get, the more I find how much more meaningful the verb gifts are — someone calling me, someone taking the time to remember me, and the like.

Here we are, finding ourselves once again on the precipice of the season known for its nouns. At least, that’s what the commercials tell us and our children — that we need things. Lots of things. We need to make big lists of things. We need to give people a lot of things.

If the world ran according to my rules, this column would run shortly after Thanksgiving. But seeing as how we seem to pull on our Christmas cover right after Halloween these days, it’s difficult to not have Christmas on our minds already, despite my best efforts to keep Thanksgiving a calm, grateful time between Halloween’s spook and Christmas’s cheer.

It can be challenging to look past the nouns during the Christmas holiday season. And it can be even more challenging to teach and encourage our children to do the same.

A few years ago, a friend of mine posted in a social media forum something about each of her four children receiving everything on their lists for which they had asked. She followed this with a question about whether or not that is a good thing.

I also know of someone who, based on her children’s less-than-ideal behavior, completely took away Christmas, as much as is humanly possible. Took down the stockings, removed the tree, put away all decoration, returned all the gifts, and passed the time on Christmas as if it was your everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill day. It was literally as though Christmas didn’t exist.

Clearly, these are some of the extremes on the Christmas noun scale. Where do you fall?

Like most things, somewhere in the middle is best. Balance is such a good approach to most things, I have discovered. I like to imbue an element of magic during the Christmas season by fulfilling some of the things on my kids’ wish lists. But I think it’s OK for them to not get everything they want. This lesson will come in handy later in life.

In a nutshell, here’s my advice on Christmas noun-ing: don’t stress. Fulfill some of the noun wishes. Set realistic expectations. Don’t go overboard.

And then be sure to include some Christmas verb-ing.

Specifically, may I suggest two verbs that should be a central part of the upcoming holiday season:

  1. Remember. Find or make opportunities to “remember the reason for the season,” as goes the popular saying. Visit a crèche display. Read the Christmas story in the scriptures. Don’t eliminate Christ by writing “X-mas.” Act out the nativity scene with family or friends. Just do things throughout the season that remind your children and help them establish a foundation that Christmas is not so much about a bunch of nouns, but rather one proper noun: Jesus the Christ.

  2. Serve others. I live in an area that was heavily affected by the Colorado floods that swept the region in September; the almost-destroyed town of Lyons is within my school district and stake boundaries. The amount of service given in the weeks since the floods have had a profound impact on my community, and the powerfully emotional stories of service given and service received are many. I was especially touched by the number of youth in the area who devoted time during the subsequent school closures to helping those in need. There is no better way to spend our time than to use our hearts, hands and abilities to serve others. While this lesson is a critical one for our children year-round, it is especially crucial during the holiday season. I will forever be affected by my son’s desire two years ago to help someone in need during the holiday season, and the time he devoted to his cause. In the end, he did nothing more than buy a sandwich and give a little money to someone who had less than he, but the story of the widow’s mite reminds me we all have something to give. Our holidays surely are enhanced by seeking out even small and simple ways to bring cheer to someone who could use a proverbial lift.

In return, these verbs can bring about more of some of the nouns about which we sing: peace on earth, and goodwill to men.

‘Tis the season.

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Grammar Time
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More by Melissa Howell

About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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