Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. I have loved this story ever since I first heard it. I have read it every Christmas season for the past 45 years. Our family attends the play each Christmas season. It is my favorite book, favorite play, and favorite movie (I own all the versions). It is my favorite work of literature.
Nearly everyone in the western world knows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, the wealthy old miser whose life was transformed on Christmas Eve through the help of his deceased partner Jacob Marley and the three Christmas Spirits. However, it has come to my attention that many people have never actually read the story in Dickens’s own words. For some reason, movie makers and playwrights seem to think that their paraphrasing improves the original. But, having read the original 50 or more times, I find myself quoting Dickens’s own words and lamenting the failed attempts at improvement. I realize it’s obnoxious to my family, as we are sitting in the play, to have me whispering to them what Dickens really wrote and why it is really better. But I can’t help myself.
Still, my plea is if you have never read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, please do so. I promise you a rare treat. It’s no more than 100 pages in length, depending on the typeface. You can read it in a couple of hours, tops. Make sure you have a marking pen, because you will find many unforgettable lines that you will just have to mark.
It is an inspirational story of reformation. It is a reminder that we can change for the better. In a literal sense, Scrooge’s change takes place overnight. But if you follow the story closely, his change takes place gradually during his time with the Three Spirits. Little by little, his heart is softened. By the time he is visited by the third spirit, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, he is ready to be taught: ‘Spirit,’ said Scrooge submissively,’ conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.’ In the end, Scrooge becomes a good, kind, and charitable man. But he could not have made the change without the help of the Spirits. Before his profound change: External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often ‘came down’ handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
After the Three Spirits helped him change, Scrooge knows that “mankind is his business.” And: Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
Dickens wrote that “it was always said of [the reformed Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” And just how does a person keep Christmas well? Dickens answers that question in various ways throughout the book. Most importantly, by remembering the Founder of Christmas. But also by:
- Making “mankind our business.”
- Making Christmas “a kind, forgiving, charitable, [and] pleasant time.”
- Remembering the poor and needy at a time when “abundance rejoices and want is keenly felt.”
- Sharing the cares of mankind and in some small way turning those cares to happiness.
- Showing good humor because, as Dickens taught: “It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.”
- Remembering that “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead…. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
- Striving to “live in the Past, the Present, and the Future” and allowing “the Spirits of all Three [to] strive within [us].”
We can do this if we choose to do it. May it truly be said of us, and all of us, that we knew how to keep Christmas well. “And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”