How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: An Argument Against America’s Capitalist Christmas


A charicature of Theodor Geisel, borrowed from here.

A charicature of Theodor Geisel, borrowed from here.

Christmas is a complex holiday that means something different to each person, and though the holiday is far removed from the way it was first envisioned, there are certain elements that many people share when it comes to Christmas.  As the preeminent children’s author of his generation, and with a reach that has extended far beyond his life, the work of Theodor Geisel, or as he is affectionately known, Dr. Seuss, has served to heavily influence the minds of youths.  It makes sense, then, that his seminal Christmas narrative, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, has helped to shape what Christmas means for many people.  Though on the surface the work is a simply morality tale that promotes unity over consumerism, it has subtle nuances that make the work interesting on other levels.  Its beauty, however, is rooted in the imaginative art work and contagious verse.  Bill O’Reilly might be eager to dismiss the work as a secularist attack on Christmas, given that there is no mention of Christ in the novel, but in looking at the spirit of the poem, it seems to work in concert with the true spirit of Christmas far more than do the xenophobic sentiments of Republican pundits who demonize American diversity as anti-Christian.  The work, instead of fostering segregation, equates Christmas with unity and forgiveness and will hopefully continue to shape how youths define Christmas for years to come.



HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMASOpponents of the supposed ‘war on Christmas’ would likely take issue with the absence of any Christian iconography or figures in Geisel’s work, but though there is a lack of overt references to Christianity, the book is very much about Christian morals.  There is no reference to Jesus, only the pagan iconography associated with the Christmas tree.  If anything, this is more in tune with the scripture as there is an utter absence of graven images and false idols, which cannot be said of most contemporary Christian celebrations.  When the holiday is outlined from the perspective of the Grinch, it seems that Christmas is defined by consumerism and gluttony as gifts and excessive feasting are prominent elements of the celebratory practices surrounding the holiday.  However, both early in the poem, and at the climax, which is devoid of gifts and gluttony, the central element of the holiday is a scene where the Whos stand hand-in-hand and sing in unison.  When examining the scene, it becomes clear that the Whos make up a diverse group of people who are tall, short, thin, round, bald, and some who have well-set hair.  This seems to be the embodiment of the Christian virtue of neighbourly love as they are showing that they love one another regardless of differences.  After all, the book says, “love thy neighbour”, not, “love thy Christian neighbour”.  It is this display of unity in the absence of possession that appeals to the Grinch and convinces him of the error of his ways.  He is not swayed by presents and food, but by the unity of goodwill, something that is utterly lacking in the divisive rhetoric of those who drone on about the war on Christmas.  The final scene has the Grinch standing alongside the Whos and being welcomed to participate in the celebration despite his crime.  Here the Christian virtue of forgiveness is on full display.



Jim Carey as the Grinch in the 2000 film adaptation.

Jim Carey as the Grinch in the 2000 film adaptation.

Whislt the pundits on Fox propaganda ‘news’ express concern that atheists and Muslims are encroaching on Christmas, the real threat that is undermining Christian values is the consumerism that has come to be associated with Christmas for over a century.  The Grinch sees Christmas as being defined by toys and food, and assumes that by removing them he will remove Christmas, postulating that “the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!” when they see they’ve no presents.  Sadly, this seems to be an accurate assessment of how most define Christmas.  Jimmy Kimmel has made light of how many youths see Christmas as a time of receiving gifts, and though the tantrums children throw when they don’t get what they want are funny in the context of a prank, they are also tragic when viewed as a social experiment. Sadly, these tantrums don’t only happen when parents are not pranking their children.  The Grinch suggests that the Whos will cry ‘BOO-HOO’, and though his hyposthesis proves wrong for the denizens of Who-ville, it is a hypothesis that proves all to accurate when applied to children in the West.  Geisel critiques this construction of Christmas through the Grinch who realizes that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store” and that “Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”  Pundits from Fox News beware, the true enemy of Christmas is not atheism and Islam, but the capitalist system you have too often come to the defense of.


A still from the 1966 animated film adaptation, featuring the Grinch doing his very best Hulk Hogan impersonation.

A still from the 1966 animated film adaptation, featuring the Grinch doing his very best Hulk Hogan impersonation.

Aside from commentary on what Christmas should be, Geisel also uses the poem as a way to highlight the limitations of language.  In one passage, Geisel succinctly encapsulates the paradoxical nature of language. The Grinch, who is both protagonist and antagonist, plots to ruin Christmas for the Whos.  Though his idea is malicious in nature, and therefore ‘awful’, it is also in the Grinch’s context, effective and therefore ‘wonderful’.  The idea, therefore, is simultaneously “WONDERFUL” and “AWFUL”.  Though the two words seem like polar opposites, Geisel constructs a scenario they can effectively describe the same thing.  This is a trick Tim Burton employs in A Nightmare Before Christmas with equally successful and magical results.  This passage also challenges the way in which we place value judgements on certain words that are in fact neutral by nature and depend on context for their value.  This simple sentence challenges readers to consider context before attributing value judgements to something.  Geisel also lampoon grammatical rules, specifically the inconsistent rules of the English language.  One couplet does this quite succinctly: “Then he did the same thing/ To the other Whos’ houses/ Leaving crumbs/ Much too small/ For the other Whos’ mouses!”  Obviously the plural of ‘mouse’ is ‘mice’, but in setting up the couplet with a word that is structurally the same as ‘house’, Geisel manages to mock the inconsistencies of the English language, reminiscent of the poem by ‘The English Lesson’, which catalogs a number of such inconsistencies.  This couplet, along with the ‘wonderful/awful’ pairing, help to enhance the poems appeal by offering a lighthearted and entertaining commentary on the inherent flaws and ambiguity of the English language.



Taylor Momsen as Cind Lou Who in the 2000 film adaptation.

Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who in the 2000 film adaptation.

Digging into a Seussarian text can spoil the fun of the work.  Though Geisel was a passionately political person, and even his children’s work reflect his politics (take a look at The Butter Battle Book for evidence), he was also a masterful and imaginative poet.  Geisel is famous for his Seussarian verse, which equates to a playful form of heroic verse that fabricates words and challenges language, but as rhythmically pleasing the metre and rhyme are, Geisel is also a master of alliteration.  His impeccable metre, rhyme and alliteration are all present in this couplet:

Packed it up with their presents!  The ribbons! The wrapping!

The Tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!”

This is the kind of poetry that compels you to read out loud because you absolutely have to hear how it sounds.  The writing is greatly enhanced by the illustrations, which though formulaic in the context of Geisel’s body of work, remain endearing and inspired.  The fact that Geisel makes the characters human-like, but somewho different, allows the reader to relate to the imaginative creatures whilst simultaneously placing them in an imaginative realm where anything is possible.  Though the length of the narrative does not allow a great deal of depth, Geisel economizes through his language and his illustrations and manages to evoke an emotive response and create a complex anti-villain in the Grinch, one the reader despises but at the same is happy for when he finally has a change of heart.  As pure storytelling, this is an expert execution of narration.


Dr.-Seuss1How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is easily one of the most enjoyable Christmas stories ever written.  It is widely accepted as a classic with good reason.  Its moral lesson is presented in a secular narrative that allows children of all faiths to read and enjoy the text.  The attack on consumerism and focus on unity is a great message and unique in the Christmas context.  Where most Christmas narrative focus on the ‘it is better to give than to receive’ lesson, Geisel  focuses on unity and community.  Christmas is not about giving and getting, it is about connecting with people, and this focus on unity sets the work apart from other Christmas stories.  The poetry and illustrations are fun and engaging, and Geisel’ hyper-awareness of language enhances the work all the more.  The only thing I have to ask, is what is “who-hash”?  I mean, is it hash?  Or is it hash?


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Works Cited:

Geisel, Theodor (as Dr. Seuss).  How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  New York: Random House. 1957.



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Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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