Lessons from the Grinch as Christmas nears

The Grinch. A furry green grump who seeks to ruin Christmas. It’s a well-worn story that arises anew each December, created by the creative mind of one Dr. Seuss.

However, the change in the Grinch over the years mirrors changes in our own society. The core of the message — the Christmas story is about love and renewal — always shines through. But the Grinch himself has appeared thrice on screen.

The first was 1966’s television special. The Grinch wasn’t a sympathetic character. He lived on Mount Crumpit outside Whoville. The reason he hated Christmas was never really made clear. However, in the short 25 minute cartoon, he undergoes an entire redemption arc.

It was a simple, straightforward adaptation of the children’s book. It told a relatively simple tale to impart a straightforward lesson. “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than parties and presents. While not as direct as the Peanuts’ cast reciting the Gospel of Luke in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 1966’s Grinch had a near-religious quality to its message.

The Grinch balloon floats down Sixth Avenue during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, on Nov. 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Thirty-four years later — the year 2000 — brought us a new Grinch. Jim Carrey made it onto the silver screen with makeup of green, and we saw a backstory previously unseen.

Carrey’s Grinch left Whoville when he was mocked by the popular kids. He took up residence on Mt. Crumpit as well, but the mountain had become the town dump. Seuss-ian pipes emblazoned “Dump It to Crumpit” brought trash — and unwanted Christmas gifts — to his adopted home.

The Whos of 2000 were hyper-consumers. Waste was wanton, and one-upsmanship ran rampant. In their world, the whole purpose of Christmas was … stuff.

Ultimately, the Grinch pulls off his famous caper and undergoes his redemption arc. However, the Whos also learn a lesson about Christmas. The movie had an introspective quality on the hollowness of consumerism and the literal mountain of pollution from their choices. Immediately before the start of the 2001 recession, it was a necessary morality tale.

And, last year, a new Grinch for a new age hit theaters. His home — Mount Crumpit — was the same. His fur was still green, and Max, his long-suffering dog, was there as well. But 2018’s Grinch wasn’t cartoonishly evil like 1966s, or manically-possessed like Carrey. He still hated Christmas, but would go into town without Whos reflexively reacting to his presence.

His story was different. Raised in an orphanage, he was often alone on Christmas. And, in the film, he finally reached his breaking point and sought to steal the holiday. The redemption arc is generally the same, but he is welcomed by the Whos without issue. The Grinch realizes he didn’t hate Christmas; he hated being alone.

The story reflects generational change through the years. The 1960s were formative years for many baby boomers, and the story of their Grinch was fairly Christian and appropriate in an idyllic version of America. The 2000 Grinch was portrayed during millennials coming-of-age. The anti-consumerism sentiment seems to be reflected in that generation; spending on experiences is up, while purchases of stuff is down.

And the most recent Grinch reflects younger generations today. With the literal world at their fingertips, and social media enabling connections with ease, many young people today find themselves more isolated than ever.

So, in the spirit of Seuss and mindful of the lessons of the Grinch:

If your Christmas has come and you are so alone

And you find yourself without a friend or a home

Know that the day is only but one of the year

And even the mean, green Grinch once found his own cheer

Be you boomer, Gen X, or Gen Y, Z, or 3

Even if you don’t have a green Christmas tree

The spirit of the season is more than just stuff

But it can certainly be hard, or rough, or tough

So just love one another, that we all can do

Because, together, anything we can get through

While the days are now dark, they will soon be light

The true meaning of Christmas should make our lives bright

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.