I’m Fine with Being Called a Grinch

My friend and I were talking about how the holidays will look different this year given the pandemic, and instead of feeling sad like many others have expressed, we were actually relieved. When perfectly crafted images of large groups gathered together at warmly lit Christmas parties are strung together like holiday lights on social media, I feel prickly with anxiety, I confided in my friend. She agreed and said that she is often called a Grinch or Scrooge. I have definitely felt that sentiment when I have modified my family’s holiday plans in favor of smaller gatherings, yet her comment caused me to pause; I find it bothersome that the terms Grinch and Scrooge are often used interchangeably to describe a thief of joy who hates Christmas because I see them as totally different beings.

I would hate to be called a Scrooge. He was a toxic, capitalistic monster who treated his employees poorly. Scrooge lacked empathy, until of course, he saw how his actions personally affected him, along with the death of Tiny Tim. I’m sure he has an interesting origin story, but I don’t have the patience to get into that given the past four years, and most notably, this last year as I watched people move around selfishly and with reckless abandon during a world-wide pandemic.

I don’t mind, however, being called a Grinch. After years of therapy and practicing mindfulness, I don’t see the Grinch as someone who hated Christmas, but as someone who had experienced trauma during the holiday. If you remember the live-action movie, the Grinch had a crush on Martha May and tried to impress her with a heart-felt, homemade angel tree topper. He was excited to give it to her until Augustus Maywho (who later, not surprisingly, became mayor of Whoville) planted the seed of self-doubt when he told the Grinch that he didn’t have a chance with Martha May because he was an eight-year old with a beard. The poor Grinch butchered his face in an attempt to shave his beard and hid behind a paper bag when it was his turn to give Martha May her gift. The teacher made him show his face, and everyone laughed when they saw the tiny pieces of tissue stuck to all the cuts on his face. The poor Grinch lost it. He threw the Christmas tree to the ground and yelled that he hated Christmas. In his fit of rage, he ran away to a secluded cave in the mountains, which seems totally understandable. He abandoned himself in hopes that he would be accepted and was rejected after showing his vulnerability. That always hurts.

I am going to make the assumption, based on retreating to his cave, that the Grinch was an introvert. And introverts don’t often want to celebrate the way extroverts do. All that noise, noise, noise can feel like an attack with a pickaxe on our nervous system. Everything about big crowds can feel suffocating — the heat generated from that many people in a home that was not meant to accommodate everyone I know makes it hard for me to breathe as my holiday wear clings to my sweaty skin. The pageantry of big, festive events can feel impersonal, and even superficial, which just adds to the physical discomfort.

We are drilled with messages, everywhere from TV commercials to people we know, that these kinds of parties are the “right” way to celebrate. If someone prefers quieter, more intimate gatherings, they are often called Grinches, and quite honestly, we are exhausted from defending our preferred way of celebrating. Grinches are, in fact, honoring what is aligned with our inner truths. We are often hypervigilant about protecting our boundaries because they’ve been habitually compromised, leaving us to feel that indeed, there’s no place like home for the holidays . . . in our own quiet living room, perhaps under a weighted blanket.

And here’s the thing, Grinches are truth-tellers, the ones who give themselves permission to let go of traditions that aren’t serving us, and that mirror can be uncomfortable for people who feel very invested in tradition for whatever reason (nostalgia, power, and image to name a few) or people who secretly hate the tradition and are jealous of someone who found a way out.

So I’ll gladly call myself a Grinch. As a Grinch, I examine traditions to see which ones feel good and which ones feel like obligation. And because I am a Grinch who protects her boundaries, I can truly enjoy the holidays.

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