The beloved Christmas story by Charles Dickens was published on December 19, 1843. Though it is now so much a part of Christmas that it feels like it has always been here, it’s actually less than a hundred and seventy-five years old.
The story is very familiar, and if you know it as well as I do, you may skip this paragraph. A cold, greedy, heartless man, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley, who is doing penance after death for his miserly way of life. He promises Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts. These spirits show him his past, his present, and his future. It is when he realizes finally that he will die alone and unmourned that he is shocked into changing his ways and becomes “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew…”
We tend to think of this today as a feel good story of a grouchy old man changing his ways and being redeemed, but I don’t think that is the main thing Dickens hoped to show. The story is about the grinding effects of poverty and loneliness. Scrooge became the man he was because of growing up poor and being unwanted. Tiny Tim dies in Scrooge’s vision because the Cratchits cannot afford to do what it would take to make him well. As Marley leaves Scrooge, we see the ghosts trying to help a poor woman, but they no longer have the power to do so. Dickens, who grew up poor, knew the wretched life led by those in poverty in London. I truly believe Scrooge was redeemed, not for himself, but for Bob Cratchit’s sake.
There’s a lot more to say about this story, and I think I will do another blog on it, but for now, don’t be like the unredeemed Scrooge, but in this season when we give to friends and relatives, remember those less fortunate and be generous like the redeemed Ebeneezer.
Quotes from A Christmas Carol
Once upon a time–of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve–old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”
Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer… If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ upon his lips should be boiled with his won pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. … We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”
But I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.
Then Bob proposed: “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!” Which all his family re-echoed. “God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
..it was always said of him [Scrooge] that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!
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