The Grinch STILL stole Christmas

Published 3:56 pm Saturday, December 27, 2014

by Andrew Book

We have a number of favorite Christmas movies in our home including a collection of different versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and kid’s shows such as “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” However, the Christmas story that has stuck with me the most this year has been the movie version of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

My wife, two of our kids, and I sat down to watch the Jim Carry version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” a few weeks ago and I was excited to share this story with them. It was the first time that the kids (who are five and three) had seen the movie, and I was hopeful that it would be fun as well as providing another reminder that Christmas is not about what we get. I had high hopes that the story would remind us all of the importance of the celebration of Christmas without the presents, but in the end I was a little disappointed.

The story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” tells the tale of a little girl named Cindy Lou Who and how she reaches out to the local villain, The Grinch. Cindy Lou thinks that everybody should be together on Christmas, and so she invites him to the celebration, nominates him to be the Cheer Master, and even goes up to his home at the top of the mountain to be sure he knows he is wanted. The Grinch does come to the celebration, but before long everything goes wrong and the Grinch storms back to his home plotting revenge against the whole town.

In order to take revenge, the Grinch dresses up as Santa Claus and, after the real Santa has finished his rounds, the Grinch sneaks into town and steals all the presents, decorations and food for the next morning’s celebration. The sun rises on Christmas morning with the Grinch preparing to dump all of the presents into the town dump as he eagerly awaits cries of distress and tears of sadness from the town. But then, instead of tears, the Grinch hears singing. The town is celebrating even though the presents are gone! In that climactic moment, the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes, he realizes that Christmas is not about the presents, and he is changed from wanting to upset the townspeople to wanting to celebrate with them.

The story is a powerful picture of the way Christmas — true Christmas without the focus on getting more stuff — can change a heart and a life. The Grinch is changed, but the end of the movie undermines that powerful transformation as the Grinch ends up stealing Christmas after all. By stealing the presents, the Grinch sets up the entire town to have their Christmas saved. He helped them to see that the presents were not the goal, instead, Christmas is about so much more. For us too, if we get the presents out of the way, we will be able to see Christ more clearly, Jesus born in a barn and laid to sleep in a humble feed trough (that is what a “manger” is!).

Unfortunately, Dr. Seuss’ story can’t quite get to the place where presents are not essential for Christmas. Instead of letting the presents crash into the dump and going to celebrate in the true spirit of Christmas, the Grinch saves the toys, returns them to the town, and the chance for a redeemed Christmas without the focus on getting more presents is lost. If I had the chance to rewrite the story, I would love to see the Grinch unable to save the toys and then return to town, receive the forgiveness of the townspeople and celebrate a Christmas without presents. Instead, the Grinch ends up stealing Christmas after all — by giving back the presents that had warped the town’s understanding of Christmas in the first place.

I recently had the privilege of leading the funeral for a woman of deep faith who was a child of the Great Depression. The glitz and glamour of Christmas was doubly troubling to her both because of her experience of poverty as a child and her understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. At her funeral, I encouraged those who were present to try to get past the presents this year and remember a poor baby born in a humble stable, and I hope we can all do the same.

The tradition in many churches is to celebrate Christmas for 12 days. Most families use Dec. 25 as a day for family and presents and then move on with preparing to celebrate New Year’s Day. My hope for you today is now that we are past the presents of Christmas Day, we can all remember what Christmas is about, and celebrate a baby born in Bethlehem many years ago. How would you celebrate if the Grinch didn’t return your presents? Could you join with the woman of faith I buried this week in remembering that our celebration is not about the getting, it is about the one who was given — Christ Jesus our Lord. Merry Christmas to you all!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or