Monday, November 29, 2010

In Defense of The Grinch

Christmas 2006


HoHoHo! And here we go…

I actually said that yesterday, to the accompanying groans of my family. (“Mom, you are such a dork,” one commented.)

The holidays don’t bring out the best in me.

Thanksgiving week was not exactly a Hallmark special at our house. Our family holidays often resemble the Griswolds’ more than they do Little House on the Prairie.

Still, as I had prayed, there were some moments of joy sprinkled in. Some laugh-til-you-cry moments. (And some regular crying.) Hugs and harsh words. Bitter and sweet. The mix of reality.

We live in an imperfect world.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons the holidays are hard for so many of us. Every time you turn on the TV, there are images of perfection paraded before us. The perfect party. The perfect gifts for the perfect family. The perfect recipe. The perfect holiday décor. Every time you check out at the grocery story, the glossy magazine covers flaunt Martha and Rachel and Oprah and Paula telling us how to do it just right. Even this blogosphere is chock-full of creative Christmas ideas that can make you develop an inferiority complex.

Perform, perform, perform!

Dance every dance, as fast as you can!

It’s all just too much.

Too much materialism and greed. Too much food and drink. Too much activity. Too much stress and exhaustion. Too many unwanted obligations. Too many intense interactions. Too many expectations.

Christmas is kind of like The Emperor’s New Clothes to me. Way too much pretending. Forced jollity.

Because of my disillusionment with the holiday, I’ve developed the reputation of being a Grinch. My family and close friends give me Grinch and Scrooge paraphernalia as gifts. I used to be mildly insulted by it.

But now, after fighting it for years, I am finally embracing my Grinchdom. I’ve accepted the fact that I will never be Martha Stewart. Barring a frontal lobotomy, I most likely will never be universally jolly during the holidays. It’s okay. Really.

We Grinches are terribly misunderstood by society. At a Christmas Coffee last year, I admitted to a group of women that Christmas wasn’t my favorite time of year. I might as well have flipped out my Communist Party membership card. Looks of consternation, sadness, and disapproval. One by one, they drifted away. Maybe they feared that Grinchdom was catching, like a bad virus.

Some of you may even stop reading me because of this admission.

Still, it’s time to come out of the closet.

I feel that I need to try to explain us to all the holly jolly little elves out there.

There are reasons why there are more suicides and hospital admissions for severe depression in December than in any other month of the year.

Believe it or not, many Grinches are former Christmas enthusiasts. We were the ones that loved it too much. As we raised our children, we tried to make it even more magical than our own childhood Christmases. Each year had to outdo the previous one.

With every additional child, came more and more Christmas activities. Everybody had several gingerbread-house-making parties and special school functions and choir performances. Everybody wanted to give her 10 best friends a special gift. Everybody had to have the perfect Christmas outfit. For some reason, we felt compelled to compete in the yearly Best Christmas Card contest. Not to mention the Best Decorations contest. Why have one Christmas tree, when you can have three? And, of course, the family had to make time for Meaningful Family Holiday Activities. As my kids grew older, I started to feel like the Gingerbread Man myself. “Run, run, as fast as you can…”

Eventually, the babe in the manger became lost among the fleshpots of Egypt.

I think that for many of us Grinches, the main conflict of the holidays is the gulf between what is and what could beshould be.  Was.

A time when ‘joy’ is obligatory is difficult for people who have experienced great loss. (As most of us have, or will.) Fifty percent of American families have been torn apart by divorce. Some of my close friends who’ve been through it are still grieving, years later. For them, the holidays are just something “to get through.”

For a family huddled in an I.C.U. waiting room on Christmas Eve, it’s hard to hear “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” bombarding them from the Muzak speakers. It seems a mockery of the reality of their pain. Christmas is simply not the most wonderful time of the year for many, many people.

For those who have nothing, it is particularly hard. Those of us who have are frantic in our efforts to help the have-nots this time of year. We try to cram a year’s worth of charity into a month. Are we trying to assuage our guilt in some way?

So much of our society’s version of Christmas just doesn’t make sense.

The manufactured man-made tradition. Commercialism run wild. Greed as god. 

We struggle to find ways to make it meaningful. To ‘keep the Christ in Christmas.’

But even that is work. Works, to be precise.

As opposed to grace.


Okay. I feel better now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest and spewed it out on my long-suffering readers. More honest. Even free.

Please don’t think I’m not going to go for the joy this year, as always. Sometimes I get it right. We get it right. The joy breaks through in unexpected ways. When I’m not planning for it, looking for it, cooking for it, trying to manufacture it out of nowhere.

And God shows up. Even here, even now.

At this mangled, messed-up birthday party we throw him every year.


***************


I followed a yearly ritual and stayed home on "Black Friday" (?!) to begin preparing my heart for the holidays. I acknowledged my Grinchdom to the Lord, and prayed a prayer that went something like this:

The Grinch’s Prayer

Dear God,

Please help me survive the celebration of the birth of your Son.

Help me not succumb to Mall Mania or Road Rage.

Free me from bondage to the illusions of perfection and performance.

Give me supernatural energy to endure the extra obligations.

And the wisdom to just say no.

Grant me patience at the Post Office.

Enable me to resist the temptation to make up lewd lyrics to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Help me to hear your quiet voice in spite of the screaming world around me.

Help me to sense your presence in the midst of over-stimulation.

Be the extra guest at every family gathering.

Bless us more with spiritual gifts than with material ones.

Grant us peace on earth and in our hearts.


May January come soon, with its epiphany and new beginnings.

And in the stillness and simplicity of a humble barn, may we lay our best gifts at your feet.

Amen.

***************

e·piph·a·ny   
[ih-pif-uh-nee]  Show IPA
–noun, plural -nies.
1. (initial capital letter ) a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.
2. an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
4. a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight.

***************

Am I alone, or are there any other closet Grinches out there? Come on. Make me feel better. Please.

(p.s. Sense of humor required.)

23 comments:

from my front porch... said...

Love this post!
Am I a Grinch? Not sure...

What I do know is that even since I was a child, Christmas has always been stressful for me. As early as 7 years of age I can remember dreading-the day.
My parents always went ALL OUT for Christmas and birthdays.

As an only child whoe parents were very successful financially, nothing was the limit on Christmas!
I can remember the sense of being totally overwhelmed by all the gifts given to me.

I am also the only grandchild, and have no cousins!!

I grew up hating the holidays and avoiding *going home*. I worked in the horse business professionally for years and always worked instead of making the trek home.

To parents I would say, make sure you limit gifts within the whole family. One *special* gift and a few small ones is perfect.

I remember being about 12 and just feeling so sad because I didn't want to hurt anyones feelings by choosing one gift as the best!
My father wrapping his arm around me and asking if I was being ungrateful!
I wasn't ungrateful~not by a long shot! I was just utterly overwhelmed and sick to my stomach.

I still have to remind my mom each year to s*l*o*w down! I recently sent her an email. Because hubby and I are going home for Christmas this year, I asked that we do no gifts! Everyone give to their fave charity. My Mom's reply~We can do that on top of gifts!

Oh, well.
At least J and I stick by our plan each year and do donate to our fave cause.

So here is to making the trek home for Christmas! And hoping I do not experience those old feelings!
I just want to be with my small family.
That is the best gift ever :)
xo, misha

Susan said...

Hmmm . . . am I a Grinch? Well, partly at least. I do love Christmas. I do not love being unable to find Thanksgiving decorations because Christmas is already in the "seasonal" spaces in the stores. I do not love the stress and pressure I inevitably put on myself. I do not love the meaning of Christmas getting lost in the midst of shopping, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. So, when did I become a Grinch? I think I know. It was the year of Furby. Do you remember those? Impossible to find the creepy little things. And I hated the sense of failure that would come if I was the one mom who couldn't come up with one. So what did I do? I stood in line at midnight of Thanksgiving and actually got to buy one. And that is when I said, "Never again." The official beginning of the part of me that is a Grinch, I suppose.

Laurel said...

Absolutely a Grinch. And you're right, I'm a recovering Christmas freak. I blame years in retail. After running a gift shop/basket business for five years, my palms would start sweating when I heard Christmas carols. (Not kidding. Not even a little bit.)

jgb said...

I LOVE Christmas. Just not all the "Christmas People". (Sort of the way I LOVE Christ, but sometimes find myself really really REALLY annoyed by "Christians.")
I didn't think I was a Grinch until I was chatting on the playground with several friends who were trying to taper down the number of gifts from Santa. They all lamented how hard it was to reduce. One talked of trying to pare down to three, like the wise men. Finally someone asked me, and I (unknowingly) revealed too much. Santa gives one big flashy gift. (This year a $50 bike and $50 golf clubs) My husband and I then give one of each category: ornament, book, toy, item of clothing per child. Plus stocking trinkets. People were SHOCKED at my Grinchyness. REALLY????
Please Note: I am not at ALL "holier than thou," but my inherent laziness, desire for simplicity and refusal to dust things coalesce at this time of year into something beautiful.
This will be my first Christmas without my Mom, but I guarantee I will be smiling as I recall the "Paper Bag Christmas" when she ran short of time one year and every single thing was put in a brown paper grocery sack and tied with red yarn. Best, most laughter filled, well-rested Christmas morning ever. Thank the Lord for giving her to me for 34 years. She taught me what to let go of, and what to hold on to.

allison guyer said...

Kim,
loved your prayer at the end. I am 29 years old and not married, no kids, and I find myself falling victim to the expectations of the season.
Too many of us spend this time trying to "perfect" the imperfections in our lives...wishing for something more, better, or different.
I will keep this prayer close!
love, allison

The Retarded Mother said...

Totally! I am. Ditto times ten.
But, like you, I still have a song in my heart. Hark now hear the angels sing.....Love you for all you share with me/us.
Marianne

The Mom said...

Oddly enough we hide the Grinch each year and he is usually holding either a booby prize or a secret treasure! Am I a grinch, I think not, but I do know several and love them for being just who they are. I am over the top and overboard on Christmas but I know why. It was the hardest holiday and the hardest day of the year period. We buried my Daddy on Christmas Eve the year that I was 8 so I grew up with a mom who tried her hardest to be happy but never could get through the day. Christmas for me was the fake day. The day when my family tried to pretend that there was no more sadness. So..long story short, when I found my peace in Christ and worked through a lot of my heavy baggage, I was able to find joy, real joy in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They were no longer days of sorrow, but became for me, days in which I could rejoice. Now I have swung the other way so your words remind me to find the balance in all things and seek the will of the One who gave me life and breath and everything else! Nevertheless, I wish you joy today even in the midst of wherever it is that you find yourself. You are the beloved of God, green and hairy or not!

Anonymous said...

I just watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" because I've always lamented along with him. This is always my first Christmas video to watch each season because it seems to put everything in proper perspective. Usually don't watch this early, but somehow felt the need a bit earlier this year! Interestingly, my typical second video to watch is the cartoon version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". (Never thought about this before. - hmmmm).

But I've always loved celebrating the season beginning with Advent and then progressing through Epiphany. (I'm not one of those "elves" in disguise who decorate a small forest in my home - I actually have a friend who puts up and decorates 14 trees - can you imagine?!?) Rather, my one tree is filled with lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of lights and decorated with the meaningful ornaments collected over a lifetime. And it's the Advent wreath and the nativity set that find center stage - and are actually the only Christmas items I'm putting out this year. I'm sensing a real need for a more "simple" celebration!

When it comes down to it, I really only want "peace on earth, good will toward men"!! Because I've already been blessed beyond what I could ever imagine! And I am so blessed by you as you share your heart and cause me to ponder and think about these various places in my own life!

Here's wishing you a season full of blessings!
L

Peggy Dabbs said...

Oh Kim, it seems that you must have
been reading my mind today! I spent the morning crying over the
sadness that Christmas brings. The
memories of things past that never will be again, some things that never were, etc. You get the picture. Then, I pulled myself together helped my daughter decorate the tree, put on some Christmas music and read prayer requests from my church. Christmas goes on inspite of me!

Love you,
Peggy

jmb77vol said...

Long time reader, first time poster. :^)

Your writing is always so good, but this piece hits the proverbial nail on the head. (Or maybe it just communicates so much of what I feel, at least this year.) Thank you for coming out of the "closet" and encouraging other Grinches like me.

Flipped Out said...

Thank you so much for coming out of the closet and sharing this with us. I lost my family through divorce. It's been ten years of trying to survive the holidays. This year I am going on a cruise and ignoring it all. My joy will come by gazing at the sea and remembering that it is alright to run away...HE is with us wherever we are and however we celebrate His birth.

Suz.Q said...

Wow - I so relate. I am a once-lover-of-the-season turned Grinch. I used to LOVE decorating my entire house. This year I'm debating whether or not to even bother with a tree. Here's the good news: I don't buy a single present and I secretly smile to myself listening to everyone stress out over what special gift to get for their nieces, brothers-in-law and neighbors...

Anonymous said...

I love your thoughts and totally relate to what you feel. Thanks for getting the message out there. I believe that all of us yearn for Christmas to be more about Christ, family, and simplicty; yet we all get sucked in to the chaos. You are not alone. Be proud of who you are.

Cheri said...

The closest I have ever come to killing someone was when I left the ICU for a few minutes to go to the hospital cafeteria and the elevator door opened and Santa with his giant gingerbread man greeted me with a loud Merry Christmas and they wouldn't leave good enough alone. My screaming put the security guards on alert. But, that's not the reason I am a Grinch. I was a "G" a long time before the elevator ordeal. Now I get a pass because Ethan was hurt December the 7th.

Christmas is a hard time for people pleasers and perfectionist. I'm recovering, but man is it hard not to slip back into the old way of thinking and acting.

I think you described it best when you said the conflict is because Christmas isn't what it should be and we can't make it what it was. I find myself feeling torn, misplaced and guilty.

But you know, I'd rather be green and fuzzy, praising and thanking Jesus, than loose my mind with a big red bow on my head!

I love you, Friend.

Cheri said...

Do not watch Andy Griffith while writing a comment or you will leave the "s" off perfectionists and spell lose with 2 "o's."

Becky said...

You don't know me, but...

Thank you for your comments about Christmas. I hesitantly tell people that I dislike the Christmas season. People look at me like I have two heads. Christmases as a kid were fine, but were very difficult as an adult(for reasons that I won't go into now). Now Christmases aren't so bad, but the depression floods in anyway.

I pray each year that I will find joy somewhere. This year I think I will just hang on to the fun that I have when I celebrate my children's birthdays. I will celebrate Jesus' birthday with the same type of energy!

Keep up the honesty :)

Anonymous said...

oh i get it!!! yes!! i'm a closet grinch myself. my birthday is close to christmas and it makes me hate my birthday too because it gets caught up in the mess. i actually do like baking and try to learn to make a few more things every year.

i am thankful that God in his Great Wisdom allowed me to be a mom when the internet existed.
it allows me to get the photo cards done and do all the shopping without leaving home and thus hide my christmas dysfunction.

for some strange reason, my husband likes to put up the tree and lights? more power to him!

and wow you nailed it when you said we have to work to "put Christ in Christmas" - like He needs us to do that? there's just so much nonsense going this time of year i could go on and on but you said it all perfectly. love, michelle

Pam Smith said...

I have been a follower of your daughter's blog since finding it on my own daughter's blog as one she 'follows' 2 yrs. ago. So, I have read some of your blogs too... and realize I need to read your blog more. My family had very quiet, low key, few gift Christmas's growing up. When I got married, my mother-in=law became the 'let me show you how much I love you by buying you lots of things' person. Stockings for everyone, overpouring with interesting items... a gift within itself. With Grandkids came even more presents, etc. I always cringed when I was asked for something else for so-and-so's list to 'even' things out. sigh. The saddest moment was when our 14/15yr. old daughter said "I don't have anything I need" (a.k.a. ~ she had more than she needed and was overwhelmed with the excess). I was appreciative that we were able to have some luxeries we could not afford ourselves, but oh the competition. Christmas at Grandma's was definately an ALL DAY extravaganza.
After my mother-in-law passed, my husband decided to compensate for her not being here and WE started doing the 'over-the-top" stockings and multitudes of gifts. (something that financial security can afford you to do). But, I kept hearing my children say... we don't need .... You know what? I finally HEAR them (I was listening)
This year is our first year that our family will not be together for ONE big gathering. My husband planned a trip for the 2 of us to mourn the loss of the tradition he came to enjoy (with not quite the amount of work as myself I must say). I guess I am a grinch, because I am relieved. No guilt over not decorating every room with something christmasy, or cooking a big meal or wrapping until the wee hours of Christmas Eve. I did put out the Nativity. And got a snowman for the backyard to look at ~ afterall snowmen are Wintery, not necessarily Frosty-ish. Thank you for your words. I needed them.

Adam & Suzanne Greeley said...

Hi Kim,

First time commenter here, I actually found your blog through my friend Catherine's blog who is a good friend of your daughters!

I appreciate your honesty so much and thought I would share a link you may appreciate! I don't know if you've heard of the Advent conspiracy, but is sure has changed Christmas in our household!

The link to the promo is here on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVqqj1v-ZBU

Hope you like it!

Jill said...

PHENOMENAL!

i told my husband that we need a holiday in january (now i know about "epiphany")!

may the joy of the Lord be your strength, and may the gap between what is and what should be be small because of the joy of Christ!

Kim Arnold said...

THANK YOU ALL FOR THESE FABULOUS COMMENTS!!!

Lots of meat in here. Along with a healthy dose of humor and love.

A special welcome to first-time commenters.

It is wonderful to have you join the conversation. We are blessed by your presence. Thank you!

~Mad(elyn) in Alabama said...

How I agree with jmb77_vol above....She stated it so well. I had a young brother die in the 1950's of polio and on Dec 26th. I was a toddler so remember little. But my family's dynamics constantly reminded us as we grew up. Christmas was not pleasant - and that hung around for over 50 years!
I enjoy celebrating quietly - the Saviour's birth, His love for me, while undeserved, and I love the freshness of New Year's!
I had cancer two years ago. Now it is back and I have just finished my last round of radiation and will be waiting until late January to find out if it helped...all this commercialism that has been going on since Halloween is lost on me.
Give me the quiet hope for Grace and the unconditional love I received.
Thanks for this prayer - I am putting it into my journal and on the refrigerator so I never forget!
Cheers,
~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

Kim Arnold said...

Mad,

That is an honor. I will keep you in my prayers.

Persevere.

Love, Kim