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SALT LAKE CITY — The holiday season is once again upon us. During this time of year, I often think of that classic story of the "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," written by Dr. Seuss.
For those not familiar with this timeless tale, the Grinch is notorious for being callous and cold-hearted, especially when it comes to the holidays. He makes his disdain for the holidays abundantly clear when he plots and succeeds in stealing Christmas from the Christmas-loving folks in the town of Whoville.
Although the Grinch's behaviors are malevolent and spiteful, was he really mean-spirited or just misunderstood? I wonder if perhaps there is a good reason for his dislike of all things jolly and bright.
The Grinches among us
There are many among us who do not like the holidays. It is tempting to accuse them of being grumpy like the Grinch, but what we don't always realize is that there may be a very good reason for the way they feel.
For these people, the holidays may be the most difficult time of the year. Having experienced traumatic or negative occurrences that happened during the holidays, financial strain and stress, reminders of loneliness, unrealistic expectations of oneself, and reminders of loved ones who have passed away are just a few reasons some may have negative associations with the holiday season.
None of these reasons are mentioned in the story of the Grinch, but I can't help but wonder if the Grinch had one or more of the above experiences that influenced his negative feelings about Christmas.
Whether you love a Grinch or you are a Grinch, there are things everyone can do to make this time of year more enjoyable for all.
If you love a Grinch
The last thing that helps a person who hates the holidays is trying to convince him or her that this time of year is wonderful. It just doesn't work. Instead of wasting your breath and energy, try practicing understanding. Don't assume that these folks were born with a defective gene that made them feel disdain for the holidays or that there is something seriously wrong in their heads. Instead, ask them what they think it is that contributes to the way they feel. When they tell you, don't try to talk them out of it. Simply listen and validate that they have a right to feel the way they do.
You may also want to bring to mind that you might feel the same way had you walked the same life path.
If you are a Grinch
Maybe there is a very deep and personal reason (like a traumatic event) for disliking the holiday season. Perhaps there isn't a specific reason. There is a possibility that you just feel the way you do, maybe based on difficulty understanding the reason people put so much stress on themselves for one day of the year. Maybe you grew up in a home that didn't put an emphasis on the holidays or saw them as silly.
Regardless of the reason, you are entitled to your opinion. Nonetheless, try opening up a bit. Clue people in about why you feel the way you do. If you are worried about getting flak for your opinions, preface the discussion with a statement such as "I would like to talk about my perceptions and feelings about the holidays. I just want to be able to talk without being convinced to feel otherwise. Thanks for being willing to just listen to me."
Remember, too, that there are likely people in your life for whom you have fond feelings, who may really love the holidays. As silly as it may seem to you, try to respect where they are coming from. Attitudes about the holidays are like anything else. We all have differing opinions about a lot of issues. Regardless, we can hear each other and have respect for each others' points of view, which can enrich our relationships with each other. Having this discussion is an opportunity to better understand each other and make your relationships better.
Create new meaning and associations
Dr. Seuss cleverly wrote:
"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?"
This time of year, and any time of year for that matter, doesn't have to be about gifts, stress, expectations, financial strain, decorations, etc. Try working on connecting with everyone in your life, Grinches included, and realize you don't necessarily have to make it about the holidays. Make arrangements to do something meaningful. This may include giving back to the community. It could be getting together and, instead of exchanging gifts, you each talk about the things you appreciate about the other.
It could be a dinner party that is just about being with the people you love. This will help to create new traditions and associations that can satisfy both Grinches and non-Grinches alike. It gives everyone something to look forward to and brings everyone together to celebrate relationships and life instead of only celebrating holidays. This is so much more significant and gratifying than any gift or holiday party I can think of.
Once the holidays are over, try to keep the ball rolling. Continue to connect in meaningful ways and make it a regular occurrence throughout the year. This will continue to strengthen relationships all year long. And who knows, maybe this will help the Grinches to see the holiday season a little differently. After all, in the end, the Grinch, finding the more important meaning of Christmas, ended up participating in the festivities of the holiday by celebrating with the people of Whoville. He took back the toys he had stolen, joined the Christmas dinner, and even "carved the Roast Beast!"
Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She is certified in EMDR through EMDRIA. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.