"What if Christmas perhaps means a little bit more?"

Today I’m the guest on CBC’s noon call-in show here in Saskatchewan.  Our topic is Christmas stories, and why, no matter how often we hear them or how formulaic the stories are, their appeal endures.  As a mother and a grandmother who’s read and heard most of the Christmas stories dozens of times and is still charmed by them, I think I may have come up with an answer.  Not surprisingly, because he was a pretty sharp guy, the answer comes from Dr. Seuss.

In “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, the Grinch, who (in case you haven’t heard), has a heart that is two sizes too small, envies the creatures of Whoville the joy they experience at Christmas, so he steals all their presents and decorations.  Despite the theft, Christmas comes just the same, and the Whos are happy just the same.  The Grinch is perplexed.  Here’s what happens next:

“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 and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

I think the reason we love Christmas stories is that Christmas seems to be a time when we look up from the paths we tread 364 days a year and consider the possibility that there may be ‘a little bit more’ to this business of living than we generally allow ourselves to acknowledge.

One of the great themes of Christmas stories is transformation.  In two of the most famous stories-- Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”--supernatural beings visit men whose lives have reached a turning point and show them that there is more to life than they thought possible.

Frank Capra’s George Bailey is about to commit suicide when his guardian angel appears to show George all the lives he’s touched and the contributions he’s made to the world.  Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge is slowly committing spiritual suicide by cutting himself off from all that is best in himself and in the world around him. These stories and the scores of others like them reiterate our worth by forcing us to look again at ourselves and to both forgive ourselves for being human and to celebrate our humanity.

Another theme that recurs in Christmas stories is the triumph of the little guy.  The fact that the drummer boy’s song is the great gift for the baby Jesus is a reminder that the angels announcing Christ’s birth appeared to the shepherds before the kings saw the star.  In one of my favourite passages from Dickens, he writes, “Christmas is the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women open their shut-up hearts freely and think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

A week ago I narrated a cantata at the cathedral we attend here in Regina.  The script had been kicking around for over 60 years; the hymns, of course, had been sung by those who celebrate Christmas for generations.  Many things have changed in 60 years.  We are not as conscious of class as we were in 1950; certainly we’re far less conscious of class than people were in Dickens’ time. But the script that I read emphasized how much the carols were the people’s carols and how, on this one day everyone, lord or peasant, was welcome at the Christmas table and welcome to eat his fill.

My old script had a powerful message.  We need the songs and stories of Christmas to get us past the differences that divide us so that we can recognize our common humanity and concentrate on living together in peace and with justice and good will.      Even Ebenezer Scrooge figured that one out.  Remember his oath at the end of “A Christmas Carol”?  “I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”

Well , why not? 

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