Copyright © by Barry Pomeroy, 11/11/08
The broad narrative terms of how we view Christmas changes slightly just
before the season arrives. Christmas is generally accepted as a materialistic
festival, with Santa in his Coca-Cola suit hanging, with the presents, under the
tree with joy. Jesus hovers in the background hoping to be invited to the real
party, instead of sitting in the cold crèche beside the highway.
The way that Christmas gets talked about, in the media and outside the shops, varies of course from person to person. But the media itself, more monocular in its vision, would loudly proclaim that the season is about giving, and they have several gift options available for your perusal. As soon as such a statement about this holiday is made, like throwing boiled eggs at Easter, people will jump with their counterarguments. "What about Dickens?" they will ask. "What about the Grinch?"
Certainly, on the face of it, the various incarnations of both Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and Doctor Seuss' "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" seem to allow an anti-materialistic message to sneak under their wrapping. The cold and empty lives of Scrooge and the Grinch are famous in their bleak anger, and the lack of material wealth does not seem to affect either Tiny Tim or Cindy Lou Who. In fact, none of the victims of the two misers’ machinations are that affected when they are either mistreated or robbed.
The Grinch comes down from his lonely mountain where he has everything, and steals all of the presents. This does not disturb the essence of Christmas at all. The Whos wake the following morning without even noticing the home invasion, and gather around the gap in the village square which used to house a tree. This poses a logical problem for the Grinch. If the joy of Christmas is wrapped with its presents, then it should have been carried away on his sleigh, but since it was not, then Christmas must mean something else. Pondering the question while hanging over the precipice, the Grinch comes to a conclusion. Unfortunately, his viewing audience is not privy to his insight. We do hear about his ill-fitting shoes and oversized heart, but as to what the logical progression of his thoughts have taught him we could not say. We do, however, wonder why returning the presents is necessary. If the Whos are just as happy without and the presents can only be saved from the sheer gorge by great effort, then perhaps it might be better to let them slip away, and run off to enjoy whatever true meaning of Christmas might be gleaned.
Scrooge has much of the same insight. Forced to peer into his own miserable past as well as encouraged to think about how few people will cry when he is gone, Scrooge is asked to ponder why the Crachit family is so delighted in their tiny hovel dining on scraps. Like the Grinch, Scrooge's change of heart is hidden from the viewer, but something about a view of his lonely gravesite and the Crachit family joy gives him an insight that his freezing office and shivering employee never encouraged. He has been invited to the Crachit family dinner, and when he wakes the next morning after his unsettled sleep, he is worried that he will miss that suddenly important appointment.
Upon discovering that he still has time, he rushes off to the event. Like the Grinch, however, Scrooge pauses long enough to gather arms full of presents and food, and then skips over to the cold family hearth. We watch the scene closely. The Whos get their presents back, and the Christmas bonus of the Crachit family is delivered to their door. As viewers, we realize that as much, perhaps even more Christmas cheer is to be gotten from the returned gifts or food, as from their unexpected dinner guests. Neither the Grinch's presence nor the Scrooge's is now necessary. The true meaning of Christmas, we learn reluctantly, is that togetherness, with gifts, equals Christmas.
Neither the Grinch nor Scrooge posit any meaningful change to society,
and although the viewer is pleased to see the happiness on the faces of the near
victims, he or she is left slightly unsettled. Both of the shows are short, and
we find ourselves remembering the two men who had the poor judgment to come to
the Scrooge to get alms for the needy. Likewise, we ask, what type of society is
Whoville that allows, while they share their good cheer, a lonely misanthrope on
a nearby mountain? It sounds more like our society than theirs. Of course we
only get to see Whoville on vacation, and the busy workings of their culture is
hidden behind the edges of the TV screen. The Ron Howard revision, with Jim
Carrey as the Grinch, tries to investigate this society, but unfortunately only
with the mandate of making the story line more palatable.
It is easy to see that the middle class men are still collecting for the poor every Christmas, an action that does not touch their lives the rest of the year, and that neither the Grinch nor Scrooge have appreciably changed the world around them, although their own lives are much brighter.
Cindy Lou and Tiny Tim are the only ones who seem to be untouched by this sick materialistic system. Cindy Lou actually seems to be happy to have the Grinch at the table, and even while the other Whos are playing with their returned toys, clamouring and eating the feast, the Grinch is bonding with little Cindy Lou. Likewise Tiny Tim enjoys the new presence in his home. The shows, unfortunately, have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. They gloss over the pleasure of a child at a new face, or at being given attention in the middle of the chaos. Lost in the debris of unrecycled paper on the floor, Tiny Tim and Cindy Lou' delight in the Scrooge and Grinch, is overlooked. I propose edited versions of these stories. I want the Grinch to drop the presents into the canyon instead of returning them. I picture him trudging down the huge hill with his dejected and abused dog, to be welcomed by the open arms of the endlessly happy Whos. I want him to scrounge for food with the Whos so that they might not be hungry on Christmas day. I want him and Cindy Lou Who to bond while they visit the soup kitchens, so that their contentment will not be discomforted by the pangs of hunger.
Likewise, I want the Scrooge to come for Christmas dinner, as he was invited by the generous Bob Crachit, but I want him to arrive, as is more his wont, empty-handed. I want that family to invite him into their hovel. I want them to share their tiny meal. Instead of their acceptance of more than anyone can possibly eat, I want them to share the regular Crachit Christmas meagerness. I want them to accept Scrooge on his own terms, not by the amount of presents that he brings.
If the Grinch stays in town and gets a job so that he can co-parent Cindy Lou Who and be closer to this delightful group of people, so much the better. And if they make use of his energy and enthusiasm for his projects, society will be the stronger. If Scrooge gives Crachit a raise, let it be in the workplace, and not remind Crachit of their unequal power relations in front of his family on a holiday. Let Crachit and Scrooge become coworkers, rather than merely on opposite ends of a one time only raise. Let them work side by side for mutual advantage. Let them restructure the company so that the new cooperative might work for society's benefit.
In short, I want real giving for Christmas. I want considerate gifts that reflect the amount of thought put into them. And if Christmas is about family, or someone else's, then let that budding relationship not be sullied by presents. Let Grinch and Scrooge be accepted on their own terms, not on the terms of what they bring.
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