Legend has it that each year at this time the Grinch and the Angel meet to debate the meaning and value of Christmas. “Christmas is a serious problem,” said the Grinch, “and should be banned from the face of the earth forever.” “Christmas is an important occasion and a wonderful opportunity for the human family,” replied the Angel. “It should be celebrated by everyone with as much joy as possible!”
And so, as the debate began, the Grinch was the first to state his case.
“First of all,” said the Grinch, you know as well as I do that Christmas has lost its religious meaning and has become a shameless commercial and materialistic spectacle. Think how early the marketing begins. Even before Halloween was over, the stores had displayed their Christmas goods. People spend billions of dollars and even go into debt to buy the most expensive of gifts, the latest fads. Have you noticed that some of the newest electronic games for kids cost $300 and $400? Whatever happened to teddy bears and baby dolls? Tell me what this commercial excess has to do with the Birth of Christ?
“The second problem with Christmas,” said the Grinch “is that the season becomes so busy, so hectic, no one really enjoys it. The stores are packed with shoppers and the roads are clogged with traffic. The lines are long and tempers are short. Everyone’s in a hurry, everyone’s anxious.
Christmas is nothing more than an excuse for a month-long party. There’s a full schedule of fashionable cocktail parties and dinners, but really, is anyone having fun? People eat too much and drink too much, all the while resolving to lose weight after the holidays.”
The Grinch pressed on. “It’s all so superficial. Despite the partying and so-called ‘good cheer’, Christmas is a really depressing time for lots of people. The expectations are way too high and never met. Think about the people who have to deal with serious illness, the recent death of a loved one, a major family problem or financial crisis. Christmas is anything but merry for them. They just want to survive the holidays and return to some degree of normalcy in their lives.”
“And keep in mind that many people don’t accept the meaning of Christmas. Not everyone’s a Christian; they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world. For them the Christmas story is a myth, nothing more than a heart-warming fairy tale. Even the word ‘Christmas’ is offensive. We don’t dare say ‘Merry Christmas’ any more, but rather, ‘happy holidays’. Nativity scenes are banned from public squares and buildings, as they should be. Really, how do you Christians get away with taking one of your beliefs, making it a public holiday and imposing it on others?
“My final objection,” said the Grinch, “is that even some people who pretend to be religious are really hypocrites. Sure they pack the churches on Christmas and, I guess Easter, but where are they the rest of the year? If they really believed the message of Christmas, wouldn’t they be consistent in the practice of their faith? Wouldn’t they be in Church every Sunday?”
“And Christmas sure brings out the Good Samaritans, doesn’t it? How many do-gooders visit hospitals and nursing homes at Christmas to sing carols and pass out cookies, but never see the inside of those institutions the rest of the year? And what about those who toss a few coins into the Salvation Army kettle and think they’re doing their duty? Really, I wonder if people do these good deeds at Christmas because they’re really concerned about others or just to make themselves feel better?”
The Grinch concluded. “That’s all I have to say. I’m sorry to sound so negative, but really, Christmas is a disaster. It does more harm than good and we’ all be much better-off without it. Christmas? Bah humbug!”
“You certainly got up on the wrong side of the bed today” said the Angel to the Grinch. “You’re even crankier than usual!” However, I understand your complaints about Christmas and once again you’ve made a compelling case. But I’m eager to respond even though I’ll never change your mind!”
“It’s true,” began the Angel, “that the celebration of Christmas has become way too materialistic and I worry about that too. I wish people would avoid the commercial extravagance of Christmas, strive for simplicity and think more of the spiritual meaning of the day. But on the other hand, remember that the gifts people buy, even if too expensive, are given to family, friends and neighbors to express love and appreciation. So even if people do spend too much, at least give them a little credit for good intentions.”
“I also agree that the Christmas Season becomes very busy and people tend to get tired and anxious. It’s very important to find some time to rest and relax, to pray about the meaning of the Season. But lots of people find a great deal of joy and excitement in all the activity. Their spirits are lifted by the sights and sounds of Christmas, by the lights and the songs, the gift-wrap and cards, the cookies and candy – and even the much-maligned fruitcake.”
“Of course during the holidays there are parties and dinners – maybe too many, but remember that every time people come together it’s an opportunity to renew friendships and strengthen bonds, especially with family and friends who don’t meet too often during the year. You should relax, a little, Grinch, and have some fun during the holidays. It would be good for you!”
The Angel continued
“I think you’re wrong believing that Christmas exposes the hypocrisy of people. Oh it’s true that there are a few folks who go to Church only at Christmas time, and indeed it would be good if they went more often. But perhaps those who attend only at Christmas are a bit like the shepherds and the Magi, traveling to the crib in Bethlehem to see what all the excitement’s about. I like to think they’re looking for some direction or meaning in their lives. It’s always possible after all that they’ll experience something at Christmas that will touch their hearts and change their lives forever.”
“Likewise for charity. Isn’t it of some value that at least this one time of the year people are more aware of the less fortunate and try to respond with some good and gentle deeds? Maybe it will open their eyes and inspire them to be more charitable the rest of the year. And besides, my friend, you shouldn’t be so critical of others. It wouldn’t hurt you to practice a little charity, you know!”
“You are correct, Grinch, not all people are Christians and don’t believe that Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was the Son of God. Of course we should respect the beliefs of others, but we shouldn’t hesitate for one moment to share our heartfelt convictions with them either. After all, Christmas proclaims good news. The themes of Christmas – hope, joy and peace – are universal themes and can be appreciated by all people of goodwill. And you’ll agree, I’m sure, that our world really needs to hear a little good news now as much as ever.”
“Finally”, said the Angel, “the message of Christmas is this: that God believes in you, Grinch, even if you don’t believe in Him. The birth of Jesus is a reminder that someone loves you even if you are an unlovable old cuss.”
And so…having once again debated to a stalemate, the Angel and the Grinch parted company. “Merry Christmas, Grinch” said the Angel. “Happy holiday, Angel” said the Grinch.”
(This article was previously published in “The Catholic Exponent.”)