At this time of year, whether you celebrate Christmas or not it’s hard to escape the legacy of Charles Dickens who more or less invented the modern Holiday, with all its charms and excesses. 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 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.
Ebenezer Scrooge became the emblematic figure of Christmas, not because he was a miser but because he was scared straight by three ghosts just in time, before the shops closed, and began spending like a madman, to help the poor Cratchitt family that he himself had exploited. That transformation from meanness to open-handed generosity is what makes the story as inspiring and joyful as it is, and that’s why people have loved it for so long.
In the 176 six years since A Christmas Carol was published readers and critics have 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’s 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 forced into his act of impulsive generosity by sheer terror. It didn’t come naturally.
We too, at WSHU, are hoping for a little impulsive generosity at this time of year. We hope that no tacky ghosts will be necessary, with or without masks, and that you will be willing to ignore the supernatural part of this inspiring story and go straight to the generous part. Being generous made Scrooge happy, and it will do the same for you.
Copyright: David Bouchier