Changing Hearts – Christmas Style

It is that time of year when the Christmas movies come out in force. There are lots of them, especially if your clicker gets stuck on the Lifetime network, but not all of them are classics.

Three of my favorites all share a common theme: Christmas brings about a change of heart in the protagonist. The movies I’m referring to (and their source material) are The Grinch who Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life. There are multiple versions of the first two, but only one version of the last. Hopefully there will never be another It’s a Wonderful Life. You don’t mess with perfection.

All three tell a similar story. The Grinch and Scrooge both need, and receive, a change of heart to save them from their toxic hearts. George Bailey had a different problem: He was a good-hearted man who was going through a crisis, and his heart started to fail him. He needed to be rescued from his own dark time.

As I was thinking about the three characters, I noticed that there were some similarities. Both Scrooge and the Grinch hated Christmas. Both Scrooge and George Bailey had the help of an angel in directing their change of heart. The Grinch’s change was initiated by joyful singing on Christmas morning.

At the end of each story, happiness prevailed, and the protagonists ended in a better place than they had been. Each showed that their own change of heart was more than just a feeling or words.

• The Grinch returned the trappings of Christmas and joined in with the Whos he had recently hated.

• Scrooge awoke Christmas morning and began doing good to his fellow men. His generosity and kindness took many by surprise – but it was genuine.

• George Bailey returned to his family, with desperate love and seeking forgiveness – truly a sign of a changed heart.

We see Christ and His teachings in all three of these characters. Themes such as caring for the poor, generosity, charity and the seeking of forgiveness are surely Christ-like in their nature, and for this we share in the joy with the transformations of each. Good stuff.

While I was thinking about this, a couple thoughts crossed my mind. The first is that if someone calls you a Grinch, or a Scrooge, it can be an insult, or a huge compliment – depending on which part of the story they are referring to.

The second thought took a little more work to establish. I actually had to do some research to make sure I got it right, so you don;t have to. Here it is:

None of these CHRISTmas stories actually refer to Christ. The name “Jesus” is never brought up or named. At all. Neither is “Savior” or “Messiah,” or “Christ.” Weird.

Yes, at one point, George Bailey (a self-described “non-praying man”) prays to God, (video below) and angels tend to him.

Yes, Scrooge is visited by three “spirits” who helped guide him to a change of heart.

And the Grinch? A change happened, but it was a pretty secular experience.

Yet there are no references to Jesus anywhere to be found in these stories of redemption. Do you find that odd? I did. Maybe it is because we know this truth:

“The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through the Savior’s Atonement. True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God and includes a conscious commitment to become a disciple of Christ.” (Elder David A. Bednar)

While singing and ghosts can help us on this journey, a real change of heart comes only through what Alma taught:

“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14)

The key player in this? The Holy Ghost. (Not Clarence, or the past, present or future ghosts). King Benjamin taught it this way:

“And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)

I am not saying any of this to disrespect or diminish the classic tales of Capra, Geisel or Dickens, because I love them all. My point is this: Even in those classic tales of redemption, something is missing – the most important part of Christmas: Jesus Christ.

What to do with this?

I might suggest that if you have kids (or grown ups) that like these stories, find a way to take a few minutes and make the link that the stories fail to make. Talk about what a change of heart actually means. It could open up a wonderful discussion about repentance, forgiveness and how a heart is changed.

In essence, we can use these classic Christmas tales to teach the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Which makes sense, because that is why Christmas even matters.

Because “by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) Even the truth alluded to in a cartoon, a Muppet movie, or a timeless classic. 

Keeping Christ in Christmas can be as simple as pointing Him out when we see Him – or when we don’t.


About the author


  1. Great post! Another favorite is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. It begins with Charlie Brown being depressed about the commercialism of Christmas. When Linus turns his focus to Jesus Christ, Charlie Brown feels the happiness he was searching for. It’s not a story of redemption, but a good story nonetheless that is as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1965 when it was first released.

  2. Brad I love this post and I love these movies too. On Christmas Eve, after all are in bed, I always watch a Christmas Carol. I too have always recognized that Christ was not mentioned in any of these movies, but in my heart ,when I watch these movies I feel him near. I am taking your advice though to council with my children about what is missing in these movies.

  3. What a great post! One of the neatest things about “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the prayer scene when George Bailey is on the bridge. Jimmy Stewart did it in one take and it was very emotional and real to him. I love that movie. The message of redemption that Jesus Christ brings is so important!

  4. Great post. One aspect of Scrooge that I was impressed by on a recent-ish rereading of “A Christmas Carol” is how quickly he makes his change. His transformation as a character has pretty much already happened by the time that the ghosts of Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past are done visiting him, and the other two ghosts are teaching him more where and how to turn the desires of his changed heart into action.

    I’m sure your research is fine in that Christ is never actually named in “A Christmas Carol,” but I know he is quite clearly referred to without actually being named at least once when Tiny Tim’s father reports to Mrs. Cratchit on how good Tim was in church as his being glad that people should see him “…and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.” I’m not going to go look up any other quotes right now, but I’m pretty sure there are other such references to “he whose day it is” scattered throughout the book without the use of any direct name or title.

  5. Excellent post. Then I think of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, kneeling at the manger, expressing his love for the Savior. I understand it was done in one take, with Mr. Stewart stating that it was expressive of his own deep feelings, so tenderly expressed.

    Merry CHRISTmas to all!

  6. I loved this post. Thank you! I thought I might respond to your comment about never having a remake of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It actually was done in 1977 with Marlo Thomas as the lead. Though it will never replace the original it was a creative way to redo it with a woman as the lead character. It is titled “It Happened One Christmas”.

  7. I. Love. This. Post! And the important message it contains to help our children make those connections to Christ. Another masterful and well thought out post.

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)