“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” –How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Benny looking extra festive.

I’m going to get a lot of beef for this, but whatever: Christmas is not my favorite holiday. Halloween takes first place, tailed closely by Thanksgiving, then maybe Fourth of July… Regardless of rankings, Christmas was never the epitome of my year. Yeah, of course, as a kid I had problems falling asleep on Christmas Eve, I left cookies and notes for Santa, and I viciously shook shiny red presents under the tree.

However, my love for Christmas was always pretty superficial. My family isn’t Christian, so Christmas never had this great meaning to me. I set up Playmobil nativity scenes without really grasping the significance. I never knew the words to “Jingle Bell Rock,” which made for an embarrassing second grade music class (and now a great story about a cruel teacher). To a naïve little me, Christmas was an awesome excuse to finish the year with beautiful new things and extravagant meals.

Our classic Danish Christmas Eve meal: roasted duck, wild rice, cabbage, green beans, potato and apple galette, and prune and apple stuffing.

As I got a bit older, I felt like a fake for celebrating Christmas. I felt like I was celebrating something that didn’t belong to me. I felt like a thief.  And then December 25th kind of became this day to feel guilty; it felt like gluttony and indulgence for no reason. I would, of course, appreciate the incredible lengths my family went through to produce a festive time. However, when looking at my stack of presents, I would feel this terrible greediness, mixed with selfish delight.

I think I came to associate these feelings with a dislike for Christmas. I would jokingly call myself a Scrooge and groan when radio stations began blaring Christmas music. I put on this mask of a Grinch to hide that I just kind of felt badly for celebrating.

Stupid defense mechanisms.

In mid-December, as my friends and I crossed North Charles Street for a study break Subway run, I began singing “Jingle Bells.” My friends chuckled to themselves and said, “You’re not really a Scrooge. I knew it.”

This year, something changed. I don’t know if it’s simple maturity or just a newfound appreciation, but I’ve realized that Christmas is actually great. My friends are right; I’m not really a Scrooge. Maybe it took a semester away from home, a couple of months rediscovering myself, some time to observe others’ holiday spirit, to see that I actually love Christmas. It took being surrounded by new people for me to reclaim Christmas. I found myself boasting my family’s holiday traditions, from our annual escargot to the Danish flags wound around our tall Fraser fir. Once I listened to my hallmates’ and friends’ Christmas plans, I recognized why mine were so important.

It flurried on Christmas Eve here in Baltimore!

And now I understand that Christmas is so much more. It can be anything—time with family, time spent volunteering, time spent sleeping and eating a copious amount of cookies. Christmas was exchanging Secret Santa gifts with my hallmates. Christmas was stealing gingerbread men from the FFC and making then dance in the snow. Christmas was giving goodbye hugs to friends headed home after their finals. Christmas was coming home to a house glowing with happiness. Christmas was sipping peppermint coffee while watching my family open their gifts.

I feel so much wiser about the holiday season now, and I’m not sure this would’ve happened if I hadn’t shared my Christmas experiences with my amazing friends at Hopkins.

So, this year, I took extra pleasure in seeking the perfect gifts for people, I danced around in the Christmas Eve flurries, and I tried to match Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” vocal runs. I didn’t want to cry when I looked at my presents. I wrapped every present under the tree (except for my own. My family knows my nosy ways.) I smiled as I washed dishes caked with Eggs Benedict.

I’m listening to Christmas music as I write this, and my ears aren’t even bleeding. Maybe my little Grinchy heart was big along. Or, maybe, college taught me how to love and understand Christmas. I like to think that this year, my Grinchy heart grew.