I have to admit that my favorite Christmas movie, far and away, is It’s a Wonderful Life. However, I’d have to say that How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is in my top three. I’m not talking about the more recent Jim Carrey version, but the older, animated version that has been a Christmas-time favorite for decades.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is truly an endearing story—all the more so for me as my little Abigail Rose has always reminded my wife Maureen and me of little Cindy Lou Who.
But is the story real? In other words, are there really any Grinches in the world? Is there anyone so foolish as to want to destroy Christmas?
On one level, the Grinch is in each one of us, just as each of us share in the burden of Frodo’s ring, to borrow from another classic, The Lord of the Rings. The sheer weight of human brokenness and sin impels us at times to perversely reject what is good. It all started in a garden, where our first parents rejected paradise.
For that reason, Christmas is for everybody. We all need good news. We all need the grace of Christ to heal the “Grinch” in us, so that we may be filled anew with awe and wonder as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
In another sense, there are still Grinches around today, but they’ve largely changed their approach since the day the first Grinch graced the pages of children’s literature. We might recall that the original Grinch attacked Christmas by taking away all the external decorations and gifts from the Whos of Whoville. What the Grinch didn’t realize was that the spirit of Christmas would continue to live on in the hearts of the people.
Today’s Grinches don’t want to take away the externals, but rather to magnify them. They want to embellish the commercial aspect of the holiday. The “spirit” or “true meaning” of Christmas may not be explicitly denied, but it is seemingly rendered irrelevant amidst the shopping frenzy and the mantra “Season’s Greetings!”.
Rather than use the liturgical season of Advent to mark the time of preparation for Christmas, we’re now taught to diligently keep track of the number of shopping days until the blessed event. Instead of celebrating the season of Christmas between December 25th and the feast of the Epiphany (i.e., the visit of the Magi—January 6th this year), today’s Grinches see this time as one for returning gifts, after-Christmas sales, taking down Christmas decorations, and approximately 35 bowl games (but who’s counting).
These Grinches, of course, are those who want to exploit Christmas, not celebrate it.
While the commercialization of Christmas in most instances is simply motivated by economic gain, there unfortunately have arisen pseudo-philosophies—like that reflected by the Ayn Rand Institute—that actually propose a Christmas without Christ. In other words, they’re offering us the shell without the pearl of great price.
Perhaps a gospel of selfishness is attractive to some people today, given the rampant consumerism of our society. And if it’s really about the “stuff,” then we might as well be honest about it.
But let’s make no mistake. The joy, festivity, and goodness that we associate with Christmas isn’t found on the Internet or at the mall. Rather, our cause for celebration is found in a manger in Bethlehem, where the eternal Word of God was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There simply is no Christmas without Christ.
Some secularists consider unbridled selfishness and consumerism without “Christian guilt” and “self-sacrifice” as enlightened, virtuous behavior, but it’s really an empty, self-destructive path. In fact, that’s why Christ took on human flesh—to save us and to show us a better way.
Our ultimate happiness entails giving of ourselves to God and others in imitation of Christ. Sure, we give gifts as signs of our love for others. Of course, we hang lights to celebrate Christ as the light of the world. But we ought not confound the signs with the realities they signify—that’s exactly what the Grinches want us to do.
How we reflect the glory of Christmas in our external celebrations is important, because we’re material, social beings. But woe to us if in the process of exchanging gifts this Christmas we fail to recognize the presence of the Giver of all gifts, who so loved us that He sent His Son to be our Redeemer.
May we bear witness to this reality and in the process melt the hearts of Grinches everywhere.
For answers to your questions on celebrating Advent and Christmas, CUF members are encouraged to call our Catholic Responses department toll-free 1-800-MY-FAITH or visit www.cuf.org.