December 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 5
To Keep Christmas Well
At the core of its wintry splendor, Christmas is a season of conversion. In it we celebrate the change from a world of spiritual bleakness without Christ to one of love for Christ and His message of our redemption. Perhaps no story captures the spirit of this celebratory conversion, rendering it accessible to old and young, more than the literary classic, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1812-70). But just as Christmas has become synonymous with shopping and the frenzy of consumerism, A Christmas Carol is today understood more for its entertainment value than its message, the latter rife and deep with an understanding of Christian conversion. A closer examination of this most wonderful of Christmas tales will bear this out.
Foul Weather Didn't Know Where To Have Him
When first introduced to the curmudgeonly miser Ebenezer Scrooge one Christmas Eve, Dickens holds him up against the cruelty of nature: "No wind that blew was bitterer than he," and "Foul weather didn't know where to have him." Scrooge is "hard and sharp as flint," much like his philosophy.
When asked for a contribution to aid the poor, Scrooge refuses only to retort that he wants to be left alone, is very glad to hear of the debtor's prisons still in operation and that society might be a better place altogether without the destitute, "so as to decrease the surplus population." Even a day off from work on Christmas is deemed "inconvenient" for this shrill echo of Malthusian and utilitarian thought. This early portrait of a self-enclosed and merciless Scrooge is finalized in a comparison with the outpour from an outdoor hydrant: "The water plug being left in solitude, its overflowings suddenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice."
What, the reader wonders, is to become of such a man?
Home For Ever And Ever
Bereft of charity and the compassion that precedes it, Dickens responds to such inhumanity with instructions in humanity. Over the course of a single Christmas eve, Dickens enlists the support of four "spirits" or "ghosts" (read: angels) to enlighten Scrooge of the meaning of the birth of Christ and our consequent purpose in life.
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," a cowering Scrooge assures the first ghost, that of his dead partner. The now ethereal Jacob Marley would have none of it. In simple eloquence, he rebukes Scrooge with the theme of the Gospel:
"Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my
business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were
all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the
comprehensive ocean of my business."
Such an education in Scripture-based perspective opens the horizon of compassion for Scrooge as he begins to understand his place and vocation in the world. The learning continues as Dickens's protagonist receives lessons about life and time from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
From a special window into his past, Scrooge discovers anew the loving solidarity of family. Allowed to witness a conversation between his younger self and his younger sister just before Christmas, he comes to realize the ultimate home for all who love:
"I have come to bring you home, dear brother."
"Home, little Fan?"
"... Home for ever and ever," she reminds him, for "home's like heaven."
Scrooge is given the same glimpse in the present as even sailors isolated at sea for Christmas long for loved ones: "every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought... with homeward hopes belonging to it.
The hope of every family is to be at the hearth of love for Christmas, something of which a hopeless Scrooge, in his practiced indifference, had been ignorant. It remained only for the ghost of Christmas future to confirm for an increasingly penitent Scrooge the consequences of his actions and the urgency for change.
To Keep Christmas Well
Before the weighty silence of his last mentor, scrooge is permitted to view the scene immediately following his death, "lying and gasping" and "alone by himself," his body "unwatched, unwept," and "uncared" for.
An inspired witness to his loveless past and with "hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed," Scrooge awakens from a life without Christ to the light of Christmas day. "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year," is Scrooge's joy-filled and contrite resolution. His commitment begins with a flurry of benevolent acts towards those he had heretofore slighted, not the least of which is his "whispered munificence" for a charity he had rejected.
Scrooge's munificence is Dickens's. In the gift that is A Christmas Carol, he reveals himself as the fifth ghost, the ghost of everlasting Christmas. "I am of the ghost of Christmas Present... Look upon me," is his annual declaration. And so it is that during the Christmas season we look upon the birth of Christ, reflect upon our lives, and strive as, the convert Scrooge did, "to keep Christmas all the year."
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