This year, my almost four-year-old daughter Riley watched the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” for the first time. She was amazed at how “mean” the Grinch was and exclaimed her shock that he was “taking everything!” At the end of the show, I tried to explain how “every Who down in Who-ville” chose to celebrate Christmas even though the Grinch had taken all of their Christmas toys, decorations, and food. It was the spirit of Christmas that mattered and because of that, the Grinch changed and returned all of the things he had stolen.
Riley talked about the show for the next several days. At one point, with her eyes wide, she declared loudly, “That ‘Crunch’ took everything!” “You mean the Grinch,” I corrected. Of course, that was what she meant, but days later, when I was succumbing to the stress of the holidays and setting up for my own little pity party, I realized that inadvertently Riley had stumbled upon a correct assessment of the holiday season for so many of us. It is the crunch of it all that takes away the joy of the season. There is the time crunch – how do I find time to buy, wrap and ship all of these gifts and also attend every holiday-related function hosted by work, school, church, friends, and family? There is the money crunch – how do I buy everyone on my list something nice and meaningful when I need to stick to this Christmas budget and avoid plunging myself headlong into debt to start off the new year? There is the emotional crunch – how I am supposed to be happy celebrating the birth of the Christ child with all of the stress and anxiety and even sometimes sadness getting in the way? Let’s not even discuss the quest for the picture perfect holiday that so many of us pursue worrying all the while that we are setting ourselves up for yet another disappointment. I end up feeling like one of those nut cracker decorations has me in a vice grip squeezing my mind, heart and wallet to the limit.
Every year I read half a dozen articles that give advice on how to avoid all of this craziness, but every year I end up right back where I started. But this year, watching the Grinch with Riley actually got my attention. The Grinch is amazed that the Whos sing to welcome a Christmas without all of the trimmings, and he realizes: “He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!” Christmas will come for us no matter what. No matter whether I spend everyday from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve in a whirl of emotion and frenzy or whether I take time to stop and realize that this is the first Christmas when both of my children are old enough to grasp the joy of the season, it will come. And it will go. If I do not take some time to shake off the excess of the season – the things that do not matter as much – I will miss it. I will miss the tiny miracle in a manger who came to live as one of us and eventually save us. I will miss the angels singing in pure praise that Jesus has been born. And after it is over, if I have missed it, I will feel empty and sad that I lost the opportunity to kneel at the stable door and worship God’s greatest gift.
Sometimes we learn the most important lessons through the eyes, and the words, of a child. I learned a valuable lesson from Riley this Christmas. I am putting my foot down and telling that “Crunch” to get lost. I see a new tradition forming here too. I think from now on, I will start every Christmas season by reading and watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I will not let the “Crunch” steal my Christmas ever again.