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Scrooge sets a good example

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The Village of Port Jefferson on Long Island took on a Dickensian appearance this past weekend for the annual Dicken Festival, celebrating the extraordinary Victorian author who more or less invented the modern Christmas, with all its charms and excesses.

The sounds of bells and carols were in the air, candles glowed in the windows and costumed characters walked the streets, including popular Dickensian characters like the genial Mr. Pickwick and of course, Mr. Scrooge.

At this time of year, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s hard to escape the legacy of Charles Dickens. When the Puritans were in power, back in the 1600s, Christmas festivities were banned, along with plum puddings, as being sinfully indulgent. Even up to the 1840s, Christmas was not much more than a date on the church calendar.

Then along came Dickens and his book A Christmas Carol and December was never the same again. He published the book in 1844 in an urgent attempt to make some money. As everyone knows, A Christmas Carol was and is a mega-best seller. Dickens even made an American tour, reading his sentimental story to rapt audiences. There were stage versions of the story, and later movies, musicals, television specials and no doubt there is a videogame too.

In A Christmas Carol, Dickens tells the heartwarming story of a miser joyfully transformed by the Christmas spirit, and of a poor family rising above their poverty and counting their blessings, even when they didn’t have any. It makes us feel good, as the author intended.

Readers have long speculated and argued over the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Was he simply a primitive capitalist, like the cold-hearted monster Thomas Gradgrind that Dickens portrayed in Hard Times? Was he more like a symbolic character in a medieval morality play, telling us how we should behave at this time of year? Or was he a reflection of Dickens’ own divided character that his biographers have now so thoroughly revealed?

Certainly Dickens could be both mean and generous, cruel and kind and he was keen on money. There was a lot of Scrooge in his creator, and it may be significant that Scrooge had to be inspired into his act of impulsive generosity by sheer terror. It didn’t come naturally.

It's been 179 years since Scrooge had his change of heart, but we here at WSHU in the 21st century are still hoping for a little impulsive generosity at this season of the year, but without trying to scare you with moralistic ghosts. Generosity made Scrooge happy at last, and it will do the same for you.

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.