The Four Villains of Christmas – The Grinch, the Distracted (Part 1 of 4)

This post is an excerpt from my book, I Hate Christmas! How to Identify and Overcome Your Inner Christmas Villain. This is the first of the 4 parts of the book, which will be published here online to help you prepare for Christmas this year. If you’d like to get the whole book, you can get it as an ebook from Amazon here

The man who does not keep Christmas is an incomplete human being.
-G.K. Chesterton, in The Illustrated London News, December 24, 1933

Introduction

Somewhere between the time the first Christmas displays go up in the stores, until fallen Christmas trees line the curbs of suburbia, we all have at least a moment where we cannot wait until after Christmas.

At some point between the ever-earlier gift guides and Christmas advertising and the seemingly impossible task of fitting decorations back into boxes, we all have at least one moment where we sigh and recall what life was like outside of Christmastime.

It might be hearing a certain Christmas song once too many times. Or yet another trip to the shopping centers packed with people too busy for common courtesy. Or shuddering at the thought of all those Christmas cards to send. Or, the headache before going to church.
We may chide ourselves for not being in the spirit, or more likely our friends and family will remind us that it’s Christmas time, and not to be such a Scrooge, or a Grinch, or some other unsavory character vilified in the movies that are brought out for their annual holiday showcase.

Have you ever given much thought to why you have unpleasant experiences during “the most wonderful time of the year?” Are you really as bad as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch? The holiday villains that have endeared themselves to us are works of human fiction, and in being such they are a reflection of real human experiences and traits. In other words, when we grow irritable with Christmas we are acting on the same principles as some of the most despicable villains of Christmas. But which one, and why? And most important, how do we overcome the issues with Christmas to enjoy it to its fullest?

These questions are the premise of this book, in which four infamous Christmas characters are compared to ordinary folk like you and I. They seem to be the four archetypes of all true Christmas villains, in those truly Christmas stories. They are not the one-dimensional destroyers of Christmas from countless “How X Saved Christmas” tales, but real true reflections of human characters with real human problems.

This is a Christmas book; that is, it is a book about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Whatever past, present, and future form of paganism shall use the traditions, trimmings and celebration, the purpose of Christmas is still marking the pivotal moment in history in which God became man for our salvation. Therefore this book is written from a Christian perspective. However, even if you are not Christian, there may be some comfort to be found here.

The Grinch  – The Distracted

Every Who down In Who-ville liked Christmas a lot…
But The Grinch, Who lived just North of Who-ville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

The classic story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a reflection of its author, Theo Geisel. The Grinch lives on a mountain overlooking Who-ville, just as Geisel lived on Mt. Soledad, overlooking the town of La Jolla in California. The Grinch remarks that he has endured the Whos’ celebrations for fifty-three years, and the story was published during Geisel’s own 53rd Christmas season.

The parallels in the story are not accidental. Of all his characters and stories, Geisel chose vanity license plates for his car that read GRINCH. He told the San Diego Union in a 1976 interview that the Grinch was “a nasty anti-Christmas character that was really myself.”
In the December 1957 issue of Redbook magazine, the same issue in which “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” appeared, he explained the inspiration for the story:
“I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could discover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”

What was it about Christmas that Seuss had lost? Respectfully, I am not going to imply that my assumptions of the Grinch are the reflection Geisel saw in his bathroom mirror. The Grinch reflects a common enough holiday attitude in the rest of us.

We throw phrases regarding the Grinch around for anyone who is lacking cheer, such as saying “Don’t be such a Grinch.” The implied meaning is that the one being called a Grinch is robbing others, or even just themselves, of the Christmas experience.

But what, exactly, is the Grinch’s problem with Christmas? (Disregarding the lengthy backstory created in the Jim Carrey movie version and sticking to the roots, of course.) Before we can treat the Grinch, we need to identify what it is that drives him to such extreme hatred of Christmas.

While Seuss’ book states that “The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!” it does specifically cite three complaints. First, there is the noise of the celebration on Christmas morning, beginning with the children getting their toys. Secondly, the feasting is mentioned, including “rare Who-roast beef.” Finally, the story mentions the Whos gathering hand-in-hand and singing, accompanied by Christmas bells.

In his futile attempt to stop Christmas, the Grinch steals the gifts, the decorations, and the food for the feast in the hope of causing the Whos to bemoan the loss of Christmas. It is when he realizes that the items he stole did not in fact constitute Christmas – something the Whos demonstrate by singing their Christmas song anyway –  that the Grinch is converted, returns the gifts, and participates fully in the celebrations.

It appears that the Grinch’s hatred of Christmas stems from an assumption that Christmas is a noisy, meaningless celebration. To the Grinch, the Whos were silly, shallow, and sentimental creatures that were incapable of genuine feelings of goodwill during the Christmas season.

The noise and the toys can represent the bustle and increased activity Christmas brings. From late October (or earlier) through the end of December, just about everywhere you look the world is changed to all things Christmas. When you see it year after year, in every place, for two solid months, it gets old. Knowing that many commercial interests, such as stores and corporate-sponsored displays are in it only for the money makes it worse.

The giving of gifts, driven by an undercurrent of enterprising retailers and manufacturers, has become a necessity of the Christmas season. Charities solicit donations of toys, for there is nothing more sad than the image of a child with no gifts at Christmas. When you stop to think of it, the poverty of that idea is much more melancholy than the lack of gifts.

The feast, including a “rare” roast beast suggests the extravagance of the season. We eat too much. We spend too much. We buy things we do not need. Rather than joy, the deadly sins of gluttony and greed seem to be more common sentiments of the season. The cynical realization that some who so lavishly celebrate Christmas care little for the reason or principles of the holiday reeks of hypocrisy. The idea of such an odious twisting of the celebration leads to anger, and from anger to sullenness, snarkiness, depression, and in the case of the Grinch, thoughts of malice and ill will.

The singing can easily be likened to the seasonal music heard at Christmas. From sanitized muzak pumped into shopping venues (as studies show it increases sales, retail stores willingly employ it for the sake of the bottom line) to the seemingly unending Christmas songs playing on the radio by every entertainer – including those that are Jewish, agnostic, or openly criticize Christianity the rest of the year – we are subjected to an overwhelming tide of Christmas “sing” every year.

The Grinch’s issue with Christmas is that he is distracted. The things used in the celebration of Christmas – the trimmings, the singing, the gifts, the food – irritate him immensely. He no longer sees (if he ever did) the reason for celebrating Christmas itself. Because he does not see the why, the celebration of Christmas rings hollow and noisy.

Those of us who share the Grinch’s distraction also get irritated by the trappings of Christmas – or too caught up in them. We may not be driven to do away with Christmas all together, but have you ever found yourself saying or thinking, “I can’t wait until Christmas is over,” impatiently waiting for the Christmas season to pass so life can get back to normal?

You may even enjoy Christmas, and most of the celebratory activities. However, one or more things annoy you just enough to make you want to get it over with. It may be sending Christmas cards, caroling, family pictures, baking, visiting relatives, shopping, or keeping some other tradition that you don’t enjoy or has become so great a hassle that it has begun to stand between you and Christmas.

Traditions are a good thing, but like Christmas cookies, too much of them can be hazardous to your health.

There is a story about a family Christmas dinner, in which the hostess was preparing the turkey on Christmas morning. Just before putting the bird in the oven, she cut the neck off and placed it beside the turkey in the roasting pan.

“Why did you do that?” asked her mother, with a curious expression on her face.
“Because you always did mom,” smiled the hostess. “I figured it was a family tradition and I have carried it on.”
“But dear,” said her mother, laughing. “I had a smaller roasting pan and the turkey wouldn’t fit without cutting the neck off.”

Do you know why each of your family’s traditions are celebrated? It’s an important question, and one that is not often asked.
If a tradition, celebration, or practice stands in the way of you celebrating the joy of Christmas, cut it out, like a cancer, before it spreads and kills your Christmas spirit altogether.

Don’t be dismayed by relatives who complain that “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without [insert tradition here]!” Yes, it would still be Christmas without the tradition, just as the Grinch finally realized.  Any particular tradition or celebration is done for the sake of Christmas, not the other way around.

There are also those who are overly distracted positively by particular celebrations of Christmas. They obsessively need to do make a big Christmas dinner, have a real Christmas tree, or Christmas is ruined for them. They have become enslaved by a particular celebration of Christmas. This can be just as damaging as a loathing for a particular activity, because one’s enjoyment of the holiday is transfixed on something that may not always be possible given a particular year’s circumstances.

Taming the Inner Grinch

Since the Grinch’s problem is distraction by the means of celebration, ruthlessly cut out those things that annoy you in your own celebration. Sit down with your family and discuss what activities each of you likes the most, and which activities you each find annoying. If there is anything that is unanimously detested, do not keep doing it! And while some sacrifices can be made for the sake of others, insisting that the entire family participate in an activity that one of more of you can’t stand is not going to be a glowing family moment.

If you have a Grinch in your life, a friend, family member, or co-worker, ask them what things they dislike the most. Share with them the things that drive you up a wall about the celebration of Christimas. Then turn the discussion towards things they enjoy about the season. Try to reinforce those aspects they find positive as best you can.

Christmas will always come without the trimmings. It will come without ribbons. It will come without tags. It will come without packages, boxes and tags. It will still come without gifts, turkey or feast, and it is not caused by Christmas cards in the least. It will come without Santa, it will come without candy. It can come without music, if you find that idea dandy. If there’s something about Christmas that causes a fit, then by all means – get rid of it!

Playlist suggestions: Less “Deck the Halls” and more of… well, whatever carols inspire you. Music is a very personal taste, so carefully choose songs and renditions that you find uplifting. If necessary, avoid randomized playlists like the radio or streaming music services; the wrong song can send you into the depths at an emotional time such as Christmas is.

In particular, avoid “We Need a Little Christmas” like the plague. Lyrics like “Haul out the holly/Put up the tree/Before my spirit falls again” are probably the last thing you want to hear.

An interesting fact about “We Need a Little Christmas” is that when the song premiered in the musical Auntie Mame, the nephew interjects with the line, “But, Auntie Mame, it’s one week past Thanksgiving Day now!” Later versions of the musical and the song were updated to reflect Christmas Creep – the moving up of Christmas preparations earlier and earlier each year – until the line became, “But, Auntie Mame, it’s one week from Thanksgiving Day now!” 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.