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What the Grinch who stole Christmas got right

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
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Here’s a hint – it wasn’t stuffing presents up the chimbley.

I don’t remember much, but I know there was a scuffle between two serious grandmas in the store. One snarled, the other one lunged for the Christmas season’s hottest toy. You remember the gadget – it could hatch and poop and skate into town to buy frozen yogurt …

And that was just a drop of the Noise! The Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! (Yes, that’s a reference to our beloved Grinchy tale, remade and out now in theaters.)

There were Christmas carols – oh, how I love them – but they were blasting on a loop overhead, making it impossible for me to make a rational decision about the overpriced race car track I snagged off the shelves 11 months ago … and just tripped over this morning, broken and dusty in my barn.

“Aw, I remember that WOWZER gift,” I thought fondly, until I looked a little closer at the water-stained box – a toy I busted my budget to buy, one that lasted in the living room a whole three days.

The irony of the moment was only intensified by my toddler who joined me for my chores. Gary sat in the dirt, Matchbox car in hand, drawing circles in the dust with his tiny pointer finger.

Brmmmm, brmmmm,” Gary revved a favorite hand-me-down car in circles for a good part of the morning while I hauled box after box, so many of our worldly goods out to the curb, including that wowzer gift he opened for Christmas a mere 11 months ago. And here’s the best part – Gary didn’t bat an eye.

So I went inside. I described the whole scene to my family. How Gary preferred a free, decade-old car and a race track made of dirt to an expensive toy. I explained how I’ve learned this lesson for the last time, and how I’m not blowing my budget again and how they’re each getting “three gifts – something fun, something to read and something practical, like socks or underwear.”

Imagine their resounding reply:

“Oh, don’t be a Grinch!”

It’s a sentiment uttered often during the holidays, and I get it – no one likes greediness or a thieving green guy who steals everything except “a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.”

But read the classic Dr. Seuss tale again, because our favorite grump did get a few things right. And while I’ve already mentioned his disdain for the Noise, I’ll touch on it again because between the snarling grandmas and the blasting carols and my heart hammering in my ears from the $4 latte in my hand, the Noise is exactly what I’ll blame for my budget-blowing, land-fill filling wowzer gift purchase. Even though … was a willing victim.

Sure, when The Grinch refers to the Noise, he’s grumping about Christmas morning. And of course he’s wrong to complain about this holy day’s revelry. But in a culture that starts celebrating Christmas around Columbus Day, virtually ignoring the traditionally contemplative season of Advent, we all are wise to disdain the Noise.

Traditionally recognized as a season of “lesser penance,” Advent takes place from sundown on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and concludes at midnight on Christmas day. It’s a season marked by prayer and fasting, a time for reflection and spiritual preparation – an opportunity to clear out the stable of one’s heart, to make room for Baby Jesus. Maybe you’re seeking the grace to forgive a past hurt; or the gift of contentment with your finances; or the wisdom to guide your teen into adulthood. Whatever spiritual/ practical gift you need, Advent is a beautiful time to “pray it in.”

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)

Certainly such growth can only be accomplished in the quiet. But for us moderns, the “Holiday Season” too often kicks off with Thanksgiving blurring into Black Friday blurring into a few weeks of frenetic shopping and wrapping and eating and parties and then ends on New Year’s Day when we – again, as willing victims – crawl, thick-waisted and debt-heavy over the Holiday Season finish line into January. It’s no wonder an estimated 25 percent of Americans suffer from what psychologists call post-holiday depression. What a sad, sorry way to start the New Year.

But it’s going to be different this time! Really, I promise. I’m going to learn from the Grinch and plug my ears to the Noise. For me, that means shopping solely online. Also, we’re going to pray more, even if it’s just remembering the Angelus at noon. Hopefully, we’ll add some extra Scripture reading after supper and even hit a weekday Mass here and there. One other thing – and this is a tip I stole from a friend – on my fridge, I’m writing out my dollars spent budget in blood. I mean a Sharpie marker. I’ll start with a set amount and subtract as I go. When I get close to the bottom, I’m gonna ask the kids if they’re cool with me dropping the last couple bucks in the offering plate. This way I’ll include them in a gift-giving season that will purposely be more careful, meaningful and hopefully – in 11 months – lighter on the land-fill.

If that makes me a Grinch, I welcome the accolade, lest we forget the final lesson we learn from his tale:

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling, “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

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