The Grinch knows best: 'So long as we have hands to clasp,' it's still Christmas

The usual trappings of a Swift Christmas were seriously downsized this year. Yet, like a certain Seussian Scrooge, columnist Tammy Swift realized the most important ingredients were still there.

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.

GLEN ULLIN, N.D. — Call it a cliche, but there really is no place like home for the holidays.

I think this as my little car rattles westward over thick ridges of ice on the Interstate. It is 14-below outside and I’ve somehow found a narrow window of sun — lodged between snow and wind — to get home for Christmas.

You see, my dad is in his 90s and my mom has health problems. As parents reach these later stages of life, every holiday together seems more important. I already feel guilty that I missed Thanksgiving with them. Surely, Mother Nature — a mother herself — won’t be so cruel as to keep families apart at Christmas.

Every trip home, mom and dad's fragility seems more apparent. It’s like the direct opposite of what happens when you see a young child only five to six times a year. With a human at the beginning of their lives, you marvel at how much more they talk and walk and interact each time. When a human enters those latter life stages, you notice how walking slows, remembering falters and functioning becomes more complicated.

You can’t help but see how painfully they navigate the stairs or how their talk dwells more on health problems and obituaries of acquaintances in the newspaper.


For them, it is an ongoing battle with grief as their independence threatens to fall away. As the children they raised with such competence suddenly start trying to tell them what to do.

Acceptance is easy when life is going well. It’s a whole different story when you have to let go of things you fiercely treasure every day.

Yet I feel lucky. They are still independent, even though we’ve reached a point where even Mom might be willing to give up her bed-and-breakfast. Despite their aging bodies, their minds remain strong. They never smoked, which may be why they've outlived most of their neighbors. Now they mainly have each other.


Tammy Swift portrait for Brightspot module

Hi, I'm Tammy Swift, a long-time columnist for The Forum. Over the years, I've written about everything from growing up on the farm and life as a single woman to marriage, divorce and the "joys" of menopause. I'm also slightly obsessed with my dog. Check out my latest columns below. Reach me at

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Mom apologizes when I get home. “It doesn’t look like Christmas, does it?” she says, pointing out that the house doesn’t include its usual festive garland of lights. I think how Dad used to clamber up to the rooftop to hang lights along the eaves. We would joke that a commercial airplane might mistake their Vegas-variety light display for a major airport and accidentally land on the roof.

Now, only the little wishing well in the front yard twinkles with lights and that’s because they keep the lights up year round. But inside, thanks to my sister, there’s still two beautiful Christmas trees. All the presents are decked out in foil wrapping paper and ribbons because wrapping is something mom can still do without getting tired.

“That’s OK,” I reassure her. “It’s still home and it’s still Christmas.”

A couple of weeks ago, Mom had also bemoaned that there wouldn’t be many cookies this year. She’s had heart problems and just gets so tired from cooking.

Then, like magical elves, my sister Verbena and her daughters descended on Mom’s kitchen the weekend before Christmas. They rolled out sugar cookies and filled Mom’s favorite thumbprint cookies with fudge.


“There will be cookies for Christmas,” said Mom. And then, because she’s always weight-conscious: “As if anyone here really needs to eat more.”

After dinner, we sat down to watch my parents' favorite nightly program, "Wheel of Fortune." It was followed, to my Dad's delight, by "How The Grinch Who Stole Christmas."

As we sat and watched it, Dr. Seuss offered a helpful reminder.

As the Grinch learned, it isn’t about cookies or lights. It’s “so long as you have hands to clasp,” that makes the season bright:

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, it came!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!

It came without packages, boxes, or bags.


Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

And, because I am lucky, I still have hands to clasp.

It’s still home and it’s still Christmas.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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