I've been called my share of names, but the only one that ever really stungwas "grinch." The year that a few friends and I started the Hundred DollarHoliday program through our rural Methodist churches, several business-pagecolumnists in the local papers leveled the G-word--we were dour do-gooders,they said, bent on taking the joy out of Christmas. And, frankly, theircharges sounded plausible enough. After all, we were asking our families,our friends, and our church brethren to try and limit the amount of moneythey spend on the holiday to a hundred dollars--to celebrate the holidaywith a seventh or an eighth of the normal American materialism. There's noquestion that would mean fewer "Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates!Drums! Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums!" Not to mentionPlayStations, Camcorders, Five Irons, and various Obsessions. Perhaps myheart was two sizes too small.
So it was with some trepidation that I carefully reread my daughter'swell-worn copy of the Seuss classic, neatly shelved with "Green Eggs and Ham,""Horton Hears a Who," and all the other secular parables. There on the coverwas the Grinch himself, red eyes gleaming malevolently as he plotted thesack of Whoville...
But of course, it didn't work. That Christmas morning, listening from hisaerie for the wailing from Whoville below, the Grinch heard instead thesound of singing. Christmas had come. "It came without ribbons! It camewithout tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" After puzzling threehours till his puzzler was sore, the Grinch was forced to conclude thatChristmas came from no store.
And so I breathed a sigh of real relief. Not only was I not a grinch tryingto wreck the meaning of Christmas, it was abundantly clear who the grinchesof our culture really are: those relentless commercial forces who have spentmore than a century trying to convince us that Christmas does come from astore, or a catalog, or a virtual mall on the internet. Every day, butespecially in the fall, they try their hardest to turn each Cindy Lou Whointo a proper American consumer--try their best to make sure her Christmasrevolves around Sony or Sega, Barbie or Elmo.
All those issues are important. But the more we worked on our littlecampaign, traveling around our region having evening meetings at small ruralchurches like the one I attend, the more we came to understand why peoplewere responding--indeed, why we had responded to the idea. It wasn'tbecause we wanted a simpler Christmas at all. It was because we wanted amore joyous Christmas. We were feeling cheated--as if the season didn'tbring with it the happiness we wanted.
Christmas had become something to endure at least as much as it had becomesomething to enjoy--something to dread at least as much as something tolook forward to. Instead of an island of peace amid a busy life, it was anisland of bustle. The people we were talking to wanted so much more out ofChristmas: more music, more companionship, more contemplation, more timeoutdoors, more love. And they realized that to get it, they needed less ofsome other things: not so many gifts, not so many obligatory parties, not somuch hustle...
So the reason to change Christmas is not because it damages the earth aroundus, though surely it does. (Visit a landfill the week after Christmas.) Thereason to change Christmas is not because it represents shameful excess in aworld of poverty, though perhaps it does. The reason to change Christmas--the reason it might be useful to change Christmas--is because it might helpus to get at some of the underlying discontent in our lives. Because itmight help us see how to change every other day of the year, in ways thatreally would make our whole lives, and maybe our entire 365-days-a-yearculture, healthier in the long run.