Why the Grinch Stole Christmas

Why exactly did the Grinch steal Christmas?

I loved the popular children’s classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. More accurately, I loved the classic children’s cartoon based on the book. Looking back on it now, I’m surprised I didn’t find the Grinch more terrifying. He's one ugly looking dude, even when he smiles. But his character arc–from opposing and stealing Christmas, to eventually saving it–became an important part of our family’s Christmas traditions.

The live-action movie with Jim Carrey–not so much. I didn’t hate it when I first saw it, but that movie leaves a strange aftertaste now. When it came on television the other day, I gave it a go for a few minutes–only to turn it off in boredom. They just spend way too much of the story on weird indoor sets. (By the way, even though Carrey must have suffered through horrible  prosthetic makeup to make this film, this isn’t the ugliest looking Christmas movie he’s has ever been in. That award goes to this one.)

It became common for my sister and I to watch the Grinch several times in one Christmas season. HOW the Grinch stole Christmas was comically preposterous–WHY the Grinch stole Christmas never really came up. I think the live-action Jim Carrey adaptation tried to explore this matter with some twisted backstory for the Grinch–of love and betrayal and being a social outcast, or something–but again, the movie really hasn’t aged well. 

I don’t know how old I was when I figured it out, but I discovered the answer was lying right there in the subtext of the original story, the whole freaking time! And I had missed it again and again because I was too distracted by the presents and the dog with the antlers and how freakish Cindy Lou Whos eyes were.

Why did the Grinch steal Christmas? Because he’s a miserable ogre, of course! 

But why is he a miserable ogre?

It’s really simple. He has a heart condition.

His heart is two sizes too small.

Sufferers of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome–POTS for short–often have circulation issues connected with a heart which is several sizes too small. Symptoms of POTS: 

Venous Legs

Poor memory
Poor concentration 
Sense of anxiety
Difficulty with exercise
Purple discoloured feet
Bowel problems
Poor sleep
Visual disturbances
Neck/shoulder pain

Say all you want about his lack of Christmas spirit or his general mean disposition, but I’m looking beneath surface issues. You guys have just been judging him this whole time! That’s right, I’m seeking root causes here, people. Buckle up.

I watched the 1966 cartoon classic again–this time with my diagnostic criteria open, and a keen eye for the symptoms.

What I found was shocking.

Swollen feet - venous pooling in legs (2:30)

The narrator begins by essentially begging you to recognize the Grinch’s condition. Before he gives the actual reason for the Grinch’s lack of Christmas spirit, (“his heart was two sizes too small!”) he offers an alternative reason: “Perhaps his shoes are too tight” the narrator supposes–with these two symptoms checked, it’s practically diagnosed already.

Neck/Shoulder Pain (2:42)

He turns his head almost all the way around on his neck. I don’t know if you can create more extensive back pain than this.

Sense of Anxiety (3:02)

He begins to feel anxious as he perceives the Whos preparing for Christmas.

Shakiness (3:34)

The Grinch begins fidgeting with his fingers as he formulates his plans.

Poor concentration & headaches (3:59)

He gets angry at the loud noises and Christmas celebrations from his perch atop Mount Crumpet. 

Dizziness (4:04)

His eyes begin spinning in his head as he reflects on his headache.

Nausea (& Bowel problems?) (5:37)

He claims he cannot eat roast beast. There’s a nuance to his anger–I imagine the Grinch is politely letting us know roast beast does a number on his digestive tract.

Trouble sleeping (Insomnia?) "all-night" montage (6:18-9:09)

Over the course of two separate montages he both makes his suit and then goes down into Whoville to steal away Christmas. 

Trouble with exercise (makes max pull the sleigh) (10:35)

He seems so lazy that he will not either move the sled himself, nor the ladder upon which to get down the chimney. Heck, he won’t even put the Christmas gifts he steals into his bags. Instead he finds clever ways to make the presents practically steal themselves (wind-up toys walk into the bag, he moves the model train to run right into the bag, christmas ornaments roll towards his sleigh, etc.)

Weakness (11:52, 12:27)

He struggles with pulling his weak, pitiful dog Max off his body.

Palpitations and shakiness (16:08)

When a small child, not more than two, catches him mid-theft, he returns to his earlier anxiety.

Exercise Difficulty (19:35)

He leans back in his sleigh while his dog again pulls him, this time up the mountain.

Visual hallucinations (21:34) 

When the Whos come outside to sing on Christmas morning, the Grinch hallucinates a star-like light rising from their midst.

Also: at (21:55), the Grinch is standing “ice cold in the snow” but he doesn’t react. “Small Fiber Peripheral Neuropathy” is a related disorder to POTS, which can cause cold insensitivity in sufferers. Are you sympathetic now?

Poor Concentration and Headaches (22:15)

“He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.” Perhaps if he didn't have a medical condition he'd be able to think clearly!

Sweating (23:20)

Upon seeing the gifts almost fall he begins profusely sweating, even though, as the narrator confesses, he’s still out in the cold.

Sufferers of POTS may also have genetic mutation symptoms in rare cases. By the Grinch’s abnormal skin colour, especially in comparison with the other people in his universe, we can be certain he’s displaying another symptom.

This my friends is a medical slam-dunk. Move over, House.

The most obvious condition the Grinch has is “Ehlers Danlos Syndrome”, where the body is lacking necessary collagen. This makes the skin and bones elastic.

And of course, you guessed it: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is another corollary condition to POTS.

So if this is the Grinch’s condition, what really helps him recover in the end? Well, his heart enlarges to three times its’ previous size. To a child, this moment is just an emotional victory–making the villain into the hero. To the astute viewer, though, we see another narrative emerge.

You see, several POTS sufferers report how exercise–specifically exercise in a reclined posture–can both ease and eventually reverse many (and sometimes all) of the symptoms of POTS!

And what happens right before the Grinch has a literal “change-of-heart”? 

He has to quickly climb up a mountain and rescue the whole sled of presents from falling off a cliff.

He bravely fights against the symptoms he’s been struggling with all his life, and as a result of that act of courage in the face of medical adversity, he recovers.

My dear friends, the Grinch has never been a villain. He’s only been the tragic victim of a medical disorder the Whos were not prepared to address. Perhaps if Whoville offered healthcare for pre-existing conditions such as these, the Grinch wouldn't have been a banished outcast in the first place.

Now that you know what the Grinch was actually struggling with, perhaps you’ll have more sympathy for him and his condition when you watch the film this Christmas season.

Because if you have no grace for people in the midst of a medical crisis during the holidays, well...

...you’re kind of being a Grinch.


(Authors Note: I hope I don’t have to mention that there are real people actually suffering with POTS, and they are not opposed to Christmas because of it. And I agree with those in their community who do not want the disorder to be renamed the “Grinch syndrome”–just because the Grinch may have POTS does not mean they should all be called Grinches. If you want to verify my medical diagnosis, you can follow along here.)