Personal Finance

Be a grinch – and embrace the real holiday spirit

To be an evolved grinch is to understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Yet every time I hear people label someone a grinch, I suspect they don’t really comprehend the full message of the Grinch’s story. People instead focus on the character from early in the animated TV special about the mean old “Stink Stank Stunk” Mr. Grinch.

“Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot,” begins the tale. “But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!”

That’s the Grinch who sticks in our memory. It’s how we describe people who criticize the commercialism of Christmas.

The word “grinch” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a person who is mean-spirited and unfriendly.”

But the character created by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, came to understand what every Who knew.

He learned the real reason we should gather together during the holidays. It’s not just about the presents. It’s about each other’s presence.

Still, as treasured as the story of the Grinch is, right now mall parking lots across the country are teeming with cars – and will be until the wee hours. Drivers will argue and scuffle over spaces.

Customers will curse long checkout lines as they stand with their carts loaded to the top.

From Halloween to Christmas Eve, debt is amassed by the masses.

But pardon my interruption of your consumption. For I would like you to take some time this year to read – not just watch – Dr. Seuss’ classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

I read it every year. I teach from it when cautioning folks in my financial ministry to watch their holiday spending.

Before you groan – if you haven’t already – my intention isn’t to make you feel bad about your desire to give. I just want the time you spend with folks to be more than the time you spend shopping for them.

Another book I like to pull out this time of year is “Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas” by Bill McKibben.

McKibben challenges people to spend just $100 on holiday gifts. When he and a few friends started this idea, he was called a grinch.

“I’ve been called my share of names, but the only one that every really stung was ‘grinch,’” he writes.

But then McKibben reread the Dr. Seuss book.

“I breathed a sign of real relief,” he said. “Not only was I not a grinch trying to wreck the meaning of Christmas, it was abundantly clear who the grinches of our culture really are: those relentless commercial forces who have spent more than a century trying to convince us that Christmas does come from a store, or catalogue, or a virtual mall on the internet.”

As McKibben writes: “The point is not to stop giving; the point is to give the things that matter. Give things that are rare – time, attention, memory, whimsy. We run short on these things in our lives, even as we have an endless supply of software, hardware, ready-to-wear.”

And then there is the financial strain. A Pew Research Center survey two years ago found that 46 percent of Americans feel that exchanging gifts stretches them too far financially. Thirty-six percent reported feeling stressed out about buying and receiving gifts, and about a quarter feel wasteful.

So when you read “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” focus, in particular, on this passage about what happened after the Grinch snatched away all the town’s Christmas gifts:

“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing! Without any presents at all! He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same! And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: ‘How could it be so?' It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!' And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! ‘Maybe Christmas,' he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!’”

After Grinch puzzled about the present-less situation in Who-ville, he had a change of heart.

SPOILER ALERT: He brings back all the toys.

That same Pew survey reported that an overwhelming number of people said that exchanging gifts makes them feel joyful and generous.

The emotion that is elicited when you give is a good thing even when the gifts come from a store.

But be a Grinch. Keep in mind that the holidays still ought to mean a little bit more.

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