Let’s hear it for the Grinch
If you think recent British politics has been chaotic, spare a thought for the hapless King Charles I. Heir to the recently united thrones of Scotland and England, he managed to provoke rebellions in both realms that led to him being captured by the Scots, handed over to English Parliamentary forces, imprisoned, and ultimately beheaded for treason in 1649.
During the decade or so of republican government, Puritan reformers suppressed the holidays of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. “Trappings of popery and rags of the beast” was a typical description for the ways in which these festivals were celebrated.
The Puritans had three main reasons for their taboo. According to them Scripture sanctioned no holy days apart from the Sabbath. 25th December was not an historically valid date, rather it had been hijacked from a Roman festival, and therefore Christians were following a pagan custom and the people celebrated in rowdy and dissolute ways, eating and drinking to excess, invading wealthy homes, begging in an aggressive fashion, and showing contempt for authority.
The record of our illiberal forebears (for many of the Puritans were Presbyterians or Congregationalists) lingers long in folk memory. It shows up in stories as diverse as Margaret Atwood’s ’The Handmaid’s Tale’, and ‘How the Grinch stole Christmas’. Dr Seuss’ story of the Grinch has been retold on screen several times, as well as in a Broadway musical. Another film version of it is on release this year.
The Grinch objects to the noisiness of the Christmas season. He has a particular distaste for carol singing. Disguised as Santa Claus, he breaks into homes on Christmas morning to steal all that they own and dump their goods off a mountain. Astonished that his victims continue to carol cheerfully, he realises that the holiday has a deeper meaning that he had not considered.
Dr Seuss’ ‘deeper meaning’ is that Christmas is about spending time with loved ones. It’s ironic that in writing a story that contains echoes of the Puritan distaste for Christmas festivities, he manages to strip Christmas of its central meaning—that God in Christ has come among us.
I heard recently that families will spend an average of £2,000 to celebrate Christmas this year. Having watched my first Christmas TV commercial on September 1st, I’m not so much surprised as alarmed. Is that what it takes to honour the One who came with ‘good news for the poor’?
More and more I find myself sympathising with the Puritans. As I look in the mirror, more and more I notice a growing likeness to the Grinch. Is it within our power as Christians to reclaim Christmas? Steal it back from the moneylenders and charlatans who grabbed it from us? Could we stage a meaningful rebellion?
What do you think?