How the Grinch was stolen by Christmas

By Br. Stephen, MIC

The story is familiar to many who grew up with Dr. Seuss. All the Whos down in Whoville are preparing for Christmas, and the Grinch, bothered by their singing, decides to interfere with their merrymaking. So, on Christmas Eve, he speeds down to their little village to steal every last gift and Christmas ornament. Next morning, however, the Whos are still singing and celebrating Christmas. This unexpected demonstration of joy converts the Grinch, and his heart goes from “two sizes too small” to “three sizes too large.” He reverses his decision, and, sharing in the Christmas spirit, returns everything he had taken from them.

The obvious moral of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is that Christmas is not about the presents, or the ornaments, or the good food. These are simply decorations for the joy already present within our hearts. As a popular Christmas carol runs, it is the song “within your heart” that makes the wintry world “look a lot like Christmas.”

True happiness begins in the heart. The Whos down in Whoville do not just sing in order to be happy, but primarily because they are already happy; and so it should be with us. We write Christmas cards and bake Christmas cookies and decorate Christmas trees because we are already happy with the most profound happiness of all. These worldly goods express and give concrete shape to our happiness. It is possible to celebrate Christmas without them, even in poverty and misery. 

St. Faustina offers an excellent example of this: one year when she was too ill to partake of the community’s Christmas celebrations, she still felt profound joy “throughout the whole Christmas Season… because my soul was unceasingly united with the Lord.” (Diary of Saint Faustina, 1443)


True happiness begins in the heart. The Whos down in Whoville do not just sing in order to be happy, but primarily because they are already happy; and so it should be with us. We write Christmas cards and bake Christmas cookies and decorate Christmas trees because we are already happy with the most profound happiness of all. These worldly goods express and give concrete shape to our happiness. It is possible to celebrate Christmas without them, even in poverty and misery. 


If our deepest happiness does not come from the beautiful things around us, where does it come from? Only Christians have a satisfactory answer for this, because only Christians truly “keep Christ in Christmas.” The coming of Christ brings a joy deeper than any other gift can bring, a joy that is not weakened but sometimes even strengthened by human misery. For is not His mercy strongest when it overcomes the greatest misery? Is it not most evident in his humble poverty, the Son of God born in a stable? 

Christmas, in this sense, cannot be “stolen.” Christ has already come. That event cannot be reversed, even if some people deny its importance, even if more behave as though God does not exist, even if we Christians “do not yet see all things subject to Him” (Heb 2:8).

This joy in suffering, this happiness amidst poverty, is what converts the Grinch. He had placed his joy entirely in the things of this world. Consequently, it seemed natural to him that when he had taken these things, the Whos down in Whoville would weep and mourn, and he would rejoice. However, the Whos down in Whoville had a source of joy that he could not touch, a joy that transcended their possessions and decorations. Once he witnessed this transcendent joy, the Grinch’s heart was changed forever.

And how did he witness it? By hearing them sing. His conversion, his acceptance in faith of an unworldly joy came through hearing. Theodor Geisel, who wrote as Dr. Seuss, may not have intended his story to refer to Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing,” but the story and the verse are similar in meaning.

There’s a key lesson here. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, but not everyone who celebrates knows why. Many, indeed, even within a Christian culture, might mistakenly think that Christmas is based on enjoying the riches of this world. What a feeble joy that would be! Without the Christian joy that transcends it, worldly riches could indeed shrink one’s heart “two sizes too small.” St. Faustina wisely warns against the danger of replacing divine comforts with human ones, saying “these two things cannot be reconciled.” (Diary, 1443) The spiritual joy of Christ’s Incarnation expands Christian hearts until they are “three times too large,” until they embrace all the miserable ones of this world  as Christ in disguise.

This Christmas, I recommend taking some time away from the usual holiday busyness to meditate on the Gospel accounts of the Nativity. In particular, focus on three ways Jesus loves us:

1)    In coming to earth, Jesus thought of you, and loved you from all eternity.
2)    In the arms of Mary and Joseph, Jesus extends His love to your friends and family.
3)    In the poverty of the stable, welcoming the poor shepherds, Jesus loves all the poor and despised of this world.

The joy of Christmas is the joy of the Gospel, and if you meditate on the Gospel accounts, it can powerfully increase your joy. Then go forth, and proclaim the Gospel of Christmas joy by your deeds of generosity. Perhaps a trace of that transcendent joy will expand the hearts of others around you, so that they too may witness the Mercy of God this Christmas.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash. 

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CAL22

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