There are a lot of Christmas Stories I am very fond of. The Gift of the Magi, Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus, The Other Wise Man. Louisa May Alcott wrote a number of stories that revolved around Christmas, most memorably perhaps, the opening chapter of Little Women. A pulp writer of the 20's and 30's, Seabury Quinn wrote a story for Weird Tales called Roads, that gave a unique and interesting story of the origins of Santa Claus. And then there is the Master himself, Sherlock Holmes, in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.
But when you get right down to it, there is no denying the greatest of all fictional Christmas stories is the one Charles Dickens jotted down more than 150 years ago. Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim and all the Ghosts, are alive in the minds of people who never read the book itself. I personally have read the book many times, including an annual once rgrough every Christmas Eve. In college I helped put together a travelling production that remains among my fondest memories of that time. Also I have collected film Scrooges like some folks collect Hamlets, personal preference: George C Scott. Part of this story's appeal is due to the brillance of Mr Dickens in creating charecters, But I feel another reason for this is that of all the classic Christmas stories, none has more lasting relevance to our own time than this work.
Two things were going on at the time that inspired Dickens as he wrote A Christmas Carol. One is that the celebrating of Christmas had fallen out of fashion in England, where it had never recovered from the Puritan control of the Cromwell era. What Christmas celebrating did take place was usually in the country, and regarded as rustic folklore. Dickens loved celebrating Christmas himself, and wanted to preserve something of its practice. But Dickens had another purpse in mind as well. Before he became a novelist, he was a journalist. In that capacity he saw a lot of poverty and neglect in society. Moreover he had come from a poor family himself, and had seen several siblings die of chronic illnesses in part because there was no money for doctors. He felt society needed to take more responsibility for its have nots. He often used his skill as a novelist to advocate for the needs of the poor; for food, medical care, housing and education, nowhere more brilliantly than in a Christmas Carol, where he reminded society that caring for have nots was also a concern of the one the holiday was named after as well.
"Christmas is a time when want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices" the businessman tells Scrooge as he seeks donations. Scrooge rejects the opportunity to help, regardless of the cost to the poor: "If they would rather die then they had betterdo it and decrease the surplus population." Like so many wealthy persons he has no concept of the needs and lives of the poor.
Christmas Present shows Scrooge all the ways Christmas could be kept. Scrooge is given intimate glimpses into the lives of two persons he should know well, but doesn't:his nephew Fred and mthis clerk, Bob Cratchit.& Fred is the stand in for Dickens reminding Scrooge and the reader that Christmas is a time of goodwwill and concern for others.
In the charecter of Tiny Tim Scrooge is finally drawn to care about someone in need. He has learned "what the surplus population is, and where it is." And when the ghost confronts him with the childrwn Ignorace and Want Dickens speaks most passionately of the need to care for the less blessed among us, "This boy is Ignorannce. This Girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."
The sad truth of course is that so little of this has changed in the 170 some years since Mr Dickens was so inspired. True there is more of a safety net in society now than there was in his time, but so many of us speak of it grundgingly, and perpetuate the fraud that recipients would rather be poor and dependent on others rather than do for themselves if they could. We pretend that we gained our successes entirely on our own merit without any help from family, education. Contacts or plain good luck. And too many people who have gotten to the top of the ladder prefer to kick the ladder down rather than help others up.
Dickens scorned this attitude. And during much of the debating the last few years years during the often acrimonious debates over health care and and so called Entitlemants and unemployment extensions I have often amused myself with thought of what Dickens would think of it all. During the 47% controversey I fantasized about him showing up on Mitt Romney's doorstep with a few ghosts along to demonstrate what tge 47% is and where it is.
I think we are so drawn to this story for many reasons. We love a good story of redemption, and if Scrooge can be redeemed, we all can. And we need a reminder occasionally that we are all in this together. And we love the idea of carrying the Christmas story into the rest of the year. As Scrooge tells the last spirit "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past,present and future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me. I shall not shut out the lessons that they teach." If thats idealisric, its a good ideal to strive for. "And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be said of us, and truly all of us. And so as Tiny Tim observed,"God Bless Everyone!"