How the Grinch Became My Family’s Favorite Christmas Eve Read

Seriously: The "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" book is so much cooler than the movie.
By Ashley Austrew
May 20, 2019

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How the Grinch Became My Family’s Favorite Christmas Eve Read

May 20, 2019

For most people, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a beloved holiday TV special. The 1966 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s classic story was a revelation in its time. Per Forbes, it was produced on a $300,000 budget — the equivalent of about $2.2 million now, which was unheard of back then — and premiered to an audience of 38 million people. Now, 52 years later, it’s still a go-to holiday special. It’s been adapted into movies starring Jim Carrey and, most recently, Benedict Cumberbatch. It was even turned into a Broadway musical. The TV special, with its blazing green Grinch character and brightly colored dreamworld version of Whoville, is so ubiquitous, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that it all started with a book. Six years ago, my father-in-law gifted me a copy, and my family has been reading it as our special Christmas Eve bedtime story ever since.

The holiday season is replete with unique family traditions, but the Christmas Eve bedtime story is by far my favorite. It’s the collective deep breath I take with my husband and children before the chaos of Christmas day begins, after the cookies have been baked and the gifts have been wrapped, and the White Elephant parties have all been dutifully attended. We snuggle up on the couch in our special Christmas pajamas and read the sacred Christmas Eve story. There can only be one — in my version of this tradition, at least. When I was growing up, our official Christmas Eve story was ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, so naturally I tried to impress that one on my kids as well. But once we got our copy of the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, there was no going back.

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I’m almost ashamed to say that, despite seeing the TV special probably 50 times in my life, I had never actually read the book until I started reading it to my kids. The book is 64 pages long, which may seem like a big ask for a children’s book, but Dr. Seuss was never a fan of putting more than about 25 words on a given page, so it only takes about 10 minutes to read. It’s also illustrated almost entirely in black and white — the only color on the Grinch himself is the glowing red of his eyes. I worried at first that this might turn my kids off to the book. After all, what is How the Grinch Stole Christmas without the green, furry Grinch and the colorful spectacle of Whoville?

But I found that my kids — now 4 and 7-years-old — loved reading about the Grinch, maybe even more than they loved watching him. Perhaps it’s actually because the book is so stripped down, giving them space to imagine the story exactly how they want to see it. Or maybe it’s the hilarity of listening to me try over and over again to perfect my growly Grinch voice or mimic the perfect intonation of the narrator from the TV special as I read. Maybe it’s the endearing way that the Grinch, in all his grumpiness, really just reminds everyone in my family of my overly dramatic 4-year-old when he needs a nap. Unlike other adaptations, which give plentiful screen time to the sympathetic citizens of Whoville, the book keeps the focus on the Grinch himself, transforming him from the ultimate Christmas villain into a comical and wild-haired old grump whom the reader knows is in for the defining moment of his life, even though he can’t see it until page 51.

But I think what really gets us about How the Grinch Stole Christmas is that, unlike other holiday stories, the book doesn’t send us off to bed dreaming about Santa Claus and what splendors he might bring. Nor does it shame those who truly desire all the trappings of Christmas, reveling in the gifts and extravagant meals and beautiful decorations. After all, the Grinch does eventually come back to Whoville with his sleigh full of presents, and they do all sit down to a lovely feast of roast beast.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the perfect Christmas story because it isn’t really about what you should feel or how you should celebrate. Instead, the book is ultimately a story about togetherness and the way that we are only made whole by sharing ourselves with others. It’s a simple and necessary reminder of the magic and splendor that’s already there, right where we are, right in our own living rooms, reflected back at us in the smiling faces of the people with whom we’re lucky enough to share each holiday.

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