4. What the Grinch Stole Instead of Christmas

Once upon a time a young grinch approached his closest relative, an uncle, for advice on a major project of the family business, thievery. “Uncle, Uncle, you’ll never believe my idea. I’m going to steal Christmas!”

“Oh, silly Nephew. You’ll never succeed. I’ve tried that already. Made a fool of myself. The true Christmas spirit is too intangible, made of stuff you can never get your hands on. Plus, people will see you coming and ready their defenses.”

The surprised look of disappointment on his nephew’s face–the greedy green expectation of glory being replaced with the ashen despair of reality–was too much for the old grinch to bear.

“But if you are patient, if you are willing to forego quick fame, I will tell of a plan to accomplish your scheme more completely than even you have dreamed.”

“Tell me, yes, tell me Uncle!” shouted the nephew with a glow returning to his eyes.

“There is another season those clever Christians devised, a solemnly sordid fast named Advent. Their idea seems to have been to preserve the integrity and specialness of the Christmas feast by preceding it with weeks of quiet and intense preparation.”

“You mean decorating,” the young grinch interjected.

“Oh, no, no, no,” came the sharp reply. “That’s not what I mean at all. It’s an internal thing. They don’t begin their Christian Year with a bang. They get quiet, slow down, examine their hearts. They…they…oh, what’s that ghastly word?…Reflect! They reflect on their need for the birth of a Christ in their lives and in their world. They sing about dreadful things like ‘mourning in lowly exile here,’ and ‘gloomy clouds of night.’ And they sit around with ‘longing hearts’ and read poems about the wilderness.”

“Sounds dreadful indeed, Uncle! They must be miserable.”

“Oh, I don’t understand it but they claim not. They fully expect to rejoice when the wilderness blooms. A completely undecipherable thing they call ‘hope.’”

“So it’s not a busy season at all?” the nephew asked. “They just sit around?”

“Not exactly just sit around. Preparing for this “birth” thing takes some work. Don’t ask me to explain, but this reflecting and examining gets them ‘preparing their hearts’ somehow. They tell stories about some lunatic shouting in the desert about ‘repenting.’”


“But that’s just my point! Don’t fret it, the dreadfulness of it all is your ticket, the key to your success.”

“How so?”

“Don’t you see how easy it would be to distract folks from all this? You don’t have to steal any of the good stuff, the cheerful celebrating, the gifts, the joyful family gatherings, the choirs of angels, the–oh, how dare I say it–the baby Jesus! You just have to get them impatient for it.

Look, how even now they have trouble ending the celebrations after the 12 days. January 6 comes along and they want to keep going. Just get them interested in the other direction, in starting earlier. Give the quiet some competition.

Make them think simple and homemade gifts are inferior. Get their kids complaining that their friends’ parents must love them more on account of the better toys. Convince them they need to head out of church to shop! How could ‘reflecting’ ever compete with shopping?! Get that Santa out there early in his red velvet and white fur and people will lose all interest in cranky John and his camel hair! Stir up some strategizing in shop owners, I bet they’ll be happy to help. See, you don’t need to go against their desires. Not if you can feed them toward your own end.”

“And I bet decorations would help!” contributed the younger grinch, now catching the spirit.

“Exactly. My boy, there’s a chance for you in the business after all! How could anybody see anything wrong with cheery decorations? But–why I bet–if you can get them putting up lights a full two weeks before the 25th, that’ll put a real damper on their ‘preparations’ and cut their Advent right in half.”

“I betcha they’ll find it hard to notice there’s any gloominess in the world at all to dispel if you can put up enough lights.”

“Now you’re talking! Any reminders of ‘captives,’ or that anybody has a reason to mourn, will come across as party-pooping. But here’s a goal for you: pace yourself just right and maybe folks won’t be able to fathom how or why their grandparents could ever wait till Christmas Eve to put up their tree.”

“Maybe I can start a competition among neighbors over who can get theirs up earliest!” The greedy eyes of the nephew were beginning to shine toward the ceiling with even more emerging ideas, but then lowered again quizzically. “But, tell me again, Uncle, why exactly am I doing this? What good does it do to increase their celebrating? I thought that was what I was supposed to be stealing.”

“Don’t you see, dear boy? You do this slowly enough and people won’t notice that you are changing the celebration. You’re eroding the meaning out of the thing.” The old grinch could see that his protege was thinking but hadn’t completely grasped the extent of the damage that could actually be accomplished. “Look at it this way. Here’s how you’ll know you’ve succeeded. If there comes a day when people get up on December 26–just when the original celebration was to be getting underway–and say to themselves, “Well, we got through another Christmas!” Then, you’ll know you’ve pulled off the caper. If people put away the Christ child with the wrapping paper, if the zeal starts to falter with the falling dry needles, and if they start to think about life getting back to normal, you’ll know you’re a genious.”

“Getting back to normal?”

“Yes, that’s your goal. Getting back to normal. Things won’t have really changed in them or in their world. Then you’ll know they’ve forgotten all about what a birth really means. You won’t need to steal Christmas after all. They’ll have traded it for an imitation.”

The green and by now very wrinkled  skin of the uncle twitched a bit. He began to wonder if maybe he were not too old to roll up his sleeves, so to speak, and lend a hand.