It seems like the Grinch is everywhere this year. As someone who's curious by nature, I began to ask why? Why does the Grinch seem more popular than ever? What about that particular Dr. Seuss story connects-resonates-with so many people today?
Before I share a thought or two about the story's renewed popularity, let me remind you about the storyline of the classic Christmas tale.
The Grinch is a mean-spirited hermit creature that lives in a cave high atop Mount Crumpit with his canine companion, Max. He finds himself bothered by the villagers who live in the valley below (the kind-hearted Whos down in Whoville) who celebrate on Christmas day. The Grinch concocts a grand scheme to deprive the Whos of their joy by stealing their Christmas gifts, decorations and food. On Christmas Eve, under the cloak of darkness, he sneaks into Whoville while everyone is asleep and loads his sleigh with the Whos' gifts, trinkets, ornaments and trees.
The next morning, as the sun rises and the Whos discover their Christmas stolen, the Grinch expects to hear sobs and despair. Instead, undaunted by the previous night's treachery, the Whos celebrate. Their singing and elation lead to his epiphany-that the spirit of Christmas is so much more than tinsel, trinkets and toys.
"'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more.'"
He then returns to Whoville with all he had taken the night before and is welcomed in the spirit of the season by the open-hearted Whos themselves.
As a 50-something-year-old adult, I realize the context of the story is more complex than merely the idea that good outshines evil. It's much deeper than that. It's a story revealing that the true essence of Christmas is not material things, decorations or food, but a state of mind built upon love, gratitude and goodness. Christmas, as the Grinch discovered, is not about material items, but a celebration of the transcendent. In the end, he understood that, and as a result, it changed him forever.
"And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say —
"that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day."
Like the Grinch, with knowledge and understanding come opportunities for growth in all of us.
I often write about charity, noting that the idea of being charitable often follows simply learning that a need exists — a sort of empathetic response to something that troubles you.
Perhaps you hear of a family in your neighborhood or church who is struggling due to unemployment or illness, and you wonder, "What can I do to help?" You see a story on the news about people who lost loved ones and livelihoods when a tornado destroyed their community, and you make an immediate decision to send money to help them survive and rebuild. You learn that only 4,000 snow leopards exist in the wild and you initiate a Google search to determine how you can help save them or other endangered species.
These acts of generosity and enlightenment almost always emerge from a deeper understanding. Knowledge drives action, and engagement drives change. In the end, the Grinch has his light bulb moment — he finally gets it — and then he chooses a different path.
I think, in some ways, we can all relate to the Grinch's journey. It is easy to be cynical in this day and age. In this cynicism, we often let our worst fears and greatest anxieties influence our behaviors. Now with this said, I doubt that any of us will choose the Grinch's path and deprive others of Christmas, but we can fall victim to the challenges of placing the commercial aspects of Christmas ahead of its real meaning. Secular or religious, Christmas should celebrate our highest ideals and deepest sense of our shared humanity.
I believe the story's renewed popularity reflects a shift in our whole mindset around Christmas and the holiday season — a shift that appears to prioritize meaning over materialism and the triumph of the authentic over the artificial.
At the end of Seuss' epic, the Grinch realizes kindness and love can repair even the most broken, and when all is said and done, generosity and forgiveness embody the very essence of the season. The Grinch's story connects us all to this journey and its challenge to find the real spirit of the holiday.
If you stop for a minute and step out of the seasonal hustle and noise, you will see that it's all around us.
David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia.