Fah who rah-moose
Dah who dah-moose
Christmas day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp."
- lyrics to Welcome Christmasfrom The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
Timing and careful scheduling for viewing holiday television specials are vital. If you tune in too early, the momentum of December starts to bog down and you lose the titter of anticipation before the holidays ever reach their zenith. If you wait too long, you might very well miss the window of viewing opportunity and find yourself with nothing to watch but Elf, or some other weird attempt to create meaningful memories by casting overbearing comedians and trashy blondes opposite a North-Pole-ian, non-represented, small-statured workforce.
It is, likewise, a mistake to own or rent the DVD of your favorite holiday movie/show. When you have access to It's a Wonderful Life or A Charlie Brown Christmas 24 hours a day in every season, the show's magical, almost hypnotic power to lure you back through the decades virtually disappears from repetition.
In the 1960s, holiday specials were only televised once a year and it was a highly anticipated event. The tension was ratcheted up even higher because there was no guarantee that our parents would organize their lives around our viewing pleasure. Some years you were lucky enough to see It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - the antennae was turned just right, your father wasn't engrossed in the Huntley-Brinkley Report, you weren't at your weekly accordion lesson, the Andy Williams Family Christmas Special wasn't competing for air-time on one of the three channels and you remembered it was on. Other years, you missed your favorite and had to accept that a year would pass before you had any hope of seeing it again.
The counterpoint to the disappointment was that special shows remained special. I missed The Wizard of Oz more often than I saw it and I never saw the Yellow Brick Road in color until I was in college. It remained a special movie for me right up until the very day I could watch it any time I liked.
These days I have cable, video streaming, play instantly, download DVD from Amazon and a Netflix account. I am the alpha female in my household, so, theoretically, I rule the remote. I can practically guarantee that I can watch anything I want, anytime and I, thereby, jeopardize my enjoyment of every special show from The Incredible Mr. Limpet to A Muppet Christmas Carol.
So, I have been very, very careful with Dr. Suess's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I don't own it. I don't watch it out of season. And even though it's aired many times in December, I neither wait too late in Christmas week in case I get tangled up somewhere and can't get home in time, and I don't watch before I'm ready to emotionally commit to all the peace and joy. Its specialness needs to be preserved and I am not careless. I plan for the perfect night, and some years it just all comes together (this year included).
We all have our favorites. My daughter is devoted to the old animated Santa Klaus is Coming to Town. But while I really like the Winter Warlock and the Burgermeister Meisterburger and Burl Ives, it doesn't touch any deep places in my psyche.
Charlie Brown is sweet. We all love Snoopy's light display and the woebegone tree, and Linus' recitation from the Gospel of Luke is beautiful. I'm a great fan of the Muppets, but they weren't around in my childhood so I don't have quite the same connection. Frosty and Rudolph don't do anything for me either way.
But Grinch is the perfect story of redemption and it never fails to make me believe all over again. As you recall, some say the Grinch loathes Christmas because his heart was two-sizes too small. Others say that his heart is full of unwashed socks and his soul is full of gunk. Be that as it may, living up in a mountain cave and having his perpetual negativity interrupted every year by the merry-making Whos down in Whoville has driven him to desperate action.
He presses his reluctant and timid dog, Max, into reindeer duty by strapping an antler to his head. With Max dragging a sled, the Grinch rides into Whoville on Christmas Eve night to steal everything from the Who's pontufullers to the roast beast. He even takes the last crumb from the Whos' houses. Crumbs so small that they are too small for the Whos' mouses.
His Grinchy scheme is to stop Christmas from coming by taking all the gifts, food and decorations, leaving the Whos nothing to celebrate. But just before he's about to dump the whole sled off of the side of...where?...that's right!...Mt. Crumpet!...gold star for you...the village bells begin to ring announcing that Christmas Day has arrived.
When the entire village of Whos clasp hands in a circle and begin singing joyously, the Grinch is stunned to discover that he didn't stop Christmas from coming. It came. It came just the same. And the Grinch begins to reassess his premise. Maybe Christmas is more.
It's a powerful message I have to hear fresh each and every year, because each and every year I forget and get pulled into the undertow of anxiety - that despondent feeling of not doing enough, not being enough or planning enough, and facing the certainty that my inadequacies will cause the holidays to not be merry enough for everyone I have ever met.
The Grinch reminds me every year that the time of the winter solstice, however celebrated, is about having hands to clasp and welcoming back the light.
And it's always in our grasp.
© 2011 Ingrid Gabriel