Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Too-small hearts full of humbug?

   Three Christmas stories say a lot about 21st century America.
    In the first, Dr. Seuss’ happy residents of the village of Whoville are preparing for Christmas. On the mountain high above lives a grouchy creature with a heart “two-sizes too small.” The Grinch sneaks into Whoville and steals all the presents, Christmas trees and food. Despite losing all their gifts, the plucky Whos carry on with their celebrating. The sound of singing and laughter grows the Grinch’s too-small heart, he returns his plunder, and all join together to eat their feast.
    “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is quintessentially American. It is a cautionary tale about focusing too much on the trappings surrounding Christmas, reminding us that sharing is what really brings joy in the season.
    In the second story, a skinflint commodities trader sees Christmas as a waste. Anyone who wishes another a Merry Christmas should be boiled in oil and have holly driven through their heart. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” transforms Scrooge through the miraculous power of Christmas, a transformation that improves all the lives Scrooge touches.
    The third fable has nearly disappeared from the lexicon of stories used to teach values to children. In “The Little Match Girl,” a poor child sits in a freezing nook outside the gates of a rich family’s brightly lit estate, watching them celebrate. Afraid to go home because she has been unable to sell her matches, she lights the matches to warm herself. In their glow, she sees images of Christmas trees and holiday feasts. The Christmas spirit does not make everything all right in the end. The poor match girl freezes to death.
    This year will be remembered for bitter arguments over whether Americans can afford to share. Proposals to slash funding for food stamps used by the poor remain on the table. Millions of unemployed Americans will lose their government help five days after Christmas.
    Multi-billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg postulated recently about a real homeless girl. “The kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky, and some of us are not.”
    Is America going to turn off the Grinch, admit Christmas is a humbug, and shrug if people freeze on the streets? We think not. The little match girl reminds us that this is a land of plenty, which can be shared, and as the Grinch and Scrooge found out, in sharing there is joy.
    Merry Christmas.

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