Black-and-white photo of a baby's hand in a father's hand.

By Jacqui Banaszynski

I am a Christmas person, without apology. I long ago left behind institutional religious practice. I no longer go big on decorations. But upbringing, culture and, mostly, the deep quite of solstice-time make it a feeling I embrace. For whatever reason, it makes me more reflective — something I think I should be more often in this zoom-zoom era. I often sense that same deepening in people around me, whether they mark Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or the solstice or the many other traditions that center in this time of year.

For me, reflection often comes through story, which I expect is true for many in the Storyboard community. Written stories always lead with me, but at Christmas I let myself indulge in more movies than usual. There is much to learn from how movies are made — the development of characters, the structure that pulls us through a narrative, the framing of time, the context (backstory) they include and the parts that are missing, the empathy they can inspire even as we know the emotions are manipulated.

As journalists, we need to guard against the manipulation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t center much of our work in the emotional center that shapes people’s lives. That’s where we find the universal themes that can shape the best of narrative nonfiction. It can also remind us that story work so essential to the human journey.

In that spirit, I invite you to revisit an archived post about a wondrous bit of story wisdom from the movie “A Boy Called Christmas.” It has become one of my faves, right up there with “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” (the 1947 version with Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and a young Natalie Wood) and “Love, Actually.” I apologize for none of these. This is the time of the year I let my inner romantic override my professional tendency to critical realism. That’s been a challenge of late, given heartache over Ukraine, Gaza, anti-humane events around the world and disfunction in these dis-United States. Those movies — fantastical as they are — remind me of the human miracle of hope.

The Grinch from the animated version of Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"My all time Christmas story and movie is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The book, published in 1957, is as good as Dr. Seuss got — and that’s saying something. The man was a master of memorable character and word play.

As for the movie, I’m not a big fan of the 2000 version with Jim Carrey; it’s fine, but doesn’t hold a winter candle to the 1966 animated version. I always find myself enchanted by the wisps of hair ribboned to the top of Cindy-Lou Who’s head and her unabashed curiosity  — not to mention those animé eyes. And that swell of music and belief rising up from Whoville at the end, after the green-faced Grinch stole all Christmas presents and food …

Let’s just say my heart grows three sizes when I watch it.

The heart of story

This year a dear journalist friend sent me another reason for me to love the Grinch — and connected it to the work we do at Storyboard. The link he sent was to an essay by Ron Charles, a book critic who writes the Book Club newsletter for The Washington Post. Headline: How the Grinch stole my heart. I urge you to find and read the piece, whether or not you’re a Christmas person. It’s a story that transcends, in so many ways. (If you don’t have a subscription to The Post, ask someone to gift you a link.)

Washington Post book critic Ron Charles

Ron Charles

What really stole Charles’s heart was not the Grinch or even Cindy Lou Who. It was his daughter, who was born some 30 years ago with cerebral palsy. In an effort to soothe her — and themselves — Charles and his wife read to her as they rocked her in their arms. They leaned on story after story. Their daughter seemed to light up most at Seussian silliness, so they worked through the canon.

And then they read her the “Grinch.” Thus anchored a tradition that has endured. From Charles’s essay, quoting Seuss:

…our most enduring love was for the zany sounds of Dr. Seuss. As he would say: “It started in low. Then it started to grow.”

As for my friend’s reference to the Storyboard mission — again, I urge you to hunt down a copy of the essay. Charles leans into Seuss’s rhythms and riffs in ways few writers can do without sounding either lazy or cheesy:

… like the best children’s books, Dr. Seuss’s work lures readers into the forbidden realm of wickedness. When the Grinch is caught stealing a Christmas tree by Little Cindy-Lou Who, who was not more than 2, we experience an essential thrill of literature: the chance to be both — both the little girl so easily fooled and the furry unctuous liar who has no shame.

Along the way, he provides context for what makes Seuss’s writing so wondrous — and his stories both timely and eternal:

… this is not a story about conversion or ideological purity. It’s a story about learning to live with, even to appreciate and revel in, the traditions of others. In a world so divided by adamantine convictions about who’s right, who’s worthy and how we should behave, the Grinch’s great revelation, his heart-expanding compromise, is a model for everyone in Whoville and beyond.

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A version of this essay was first published as a Storyboard newsletter on Dec. 22, 2023.

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