By John Athanasatos
In a few days, Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Yes, a day for families to gather together and break bread, giving thanks to God for all they have. A day of fellowship and tradition. Yet, over the years the true meaning of Thanksgiving has eroded in American society. It has become a day to indulge with food and football. Many start the day watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and by dusk getting ready to hit their favorite retail stores for amazing Black Friday sales. Some even camp in front of Walmart or Target for days just to be the first at the door to get the best deal ever. Then the countdown to Christmas comes with endless commercials you watch at home and holiday songs on the radio you listen while in your car. The kids love the traditional Christmas cartoons, like a Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Sure they are cute and funny and certainly innocent but don’t really portray the true meaning of Christmas. However, there is one particular Christmas cartoon that does reveal the true meaning of Christmas; How the Grinch Stole Christmas! This cartoon is based off the Dr Seuss children’s novel. It is indeed a classic and very much popular.
For those that are not privy to the plot, it is about a creature named the Grinch who lived just north of the town called Whoville. Obviously the Grinch is an antithesis of Santa Claus who lives in the north, thus the North Pole. Santa Claus, also a fictional character, is a jolly old man who deliver toys during the night before Christmas morning on his sled led by reindeer. He comes down your chimney and leaves the toys you desired all year under the Christmas tree, if you are good of course. The Grinch, on the other hand, did not have reindeer but a dog that he deemed a reindeer by putting a horn on his head. Instead of delivering toys, the Grinch went house to house, taking all the toys and Christmas decorations, even the food preparations for dinner, along with the wood for the fire and stuff it up the chimney. He would leave nothing behind but a crumb even too small for a mouse to eat. The Grinch hated Christmas and even more so the joy that people had celebrating Christmas. He thought if he took all these material things from them that their Christmas joy would stop. However, after he packed up everything and headed back north, he thought he would hear a noise of disappointment and despair. Instead, he heard a very merry noise, one of love and joy. At that very moment something happened to the Grinch. He had a change of heart or a change of mind, μετάνοια. He realized Christmas was not about the material things but about love and fellowship. He immediately returned back all the things he stole from the Whoville residents and even joined them for a Christmas meal.
The story of the Grinch echoes the account of St. Paul’s conversion: then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether man or woman, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed, he came near Damascus and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me.” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” …”And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. (Acts 9: 1-18)
Yes, St Paul at one time was a great persecutor of the Church, making havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3)Saul even consented to the stoning of St Stephen the Archdeacon. He went house to house just like the Grinch did, in search of believers of the Way. Although the Grinch was a fictional character, if we could imagine for a moment that he was an historical person, would it be accurate to say that the moment of his conversion, his μετάνοια, was the working of the Holy Spirit? The Grinch was stopped on the road back to his home up north, the same way Saul was stopped on the road to Damascus. The “road” is really the journey throughout our lives and the opportunities on that “road” that Christ encounters us.
The Grinch, although a fictional character is nevertheless an image, a “type” of St Paul. There is a message for each of us that no matter how great a sinner one may be or how great the sins one has committed, Christ will not abandon us. He will always give us opportunities to repent and to forgive us. Christ wants us to repent, He wants to forgive us and He wants us to enter His Heavenly Kingdom. Yet, He respects our free will to choose, to choose good or evil. Will we choose Him which will lead us to eternal life? The choice is ours. St Paul is a great example for us. He along with Peter were the Κορυφαίοι, leaders among the Apostles. St Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. He brought Christianity to the Hellenes via his four missionary journeys throughout Greece, Cyprus and Asia Minor. He was beheaded in Rome in defense of the Faith; from persecutor of the Faith to martyr. With God anything is possible.
The Grinch who Stole Christmas! is indeed a true Christmas story and very much glosses the basis for the Incarnation of Christ. The Word of God, took on flesh and dwelt among us, in order to save us. That is what Christmas is truly about. Christ took on human flesh in order to save humanity. So the title of both the cartoon and book is not accurate. The Grinch did not steal Christmas. He might have tried to but he could not, it was impossible. The faith of the Whoville citizens was just too strong to overcome. In the end, the Grinch did not steal Christmas but rather celebrated it along with the others.
In this Christmas season, the Grinch who Stole Christmas! should very much be encouraged to be watched and read by our children. Certainly, Dr Seuss did not intend to portray the Grinch as an image of St Paul. Rather, through the lens of Orthodoxy we can make that connection. The message is for us to know that Christmas is not a material feast, rather a salvific one. As St Athanasius said: Christ became man so that man may become God.
A Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving to all!