Published in the Deseret News, December 26, 2018. Read it here.
This year marks 175 years since the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
During December one year we read the iconic story for our early-morning family scripture study. Don’t worry, we weren’t apostatizing. We continued to read from the Bible; but my husband also wanted to share Dickens’ touching tale with our children.
I loved hearing the familiar words as I made breakfast each day. The old English terms and phrases were delightful and filled with humor and meaning. In fact, as Dickens wished in his original preface, the tale haunted our house “pleasantly” during the month.
Although the story is familiar, it brought on new life that year. In addition to our daily reading, several of us also attended the theatre production. Lines from the book that had become dear to us were shared dramatically throughout the show.
Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge is the villain – and hero – of the story. The descriptions of Scrooge are comical but clear. “The cold within him froze his own features.” “He carried his own low temperature always about with him.” And, “even the heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet…often ‘came down’ handsomely, and Scrooge never did.” In other words, Scrooge is cold and hard.
Even when Marley appears, Scrooge’s calls him a “humbug” until the ghost raises such a “frightful cry” and shakes his chains with such a “dismal and appalling noise” that Scrooge cowers and agrees to listen to Marley’s warning.
Then the spirits come: the first with her magical, childlike memories of softer times when Scrooge believed in Christmas and mankind.
The second with his abundant joy and overflowing food and invitation to “come and know me better.”
And the third with his dark foreboding phantoms of the future: the death of beloved Tiny Tim and the lonely demise of Ebenezer.
And then the miraculous Christmas morning when Scrooge is completely changed. The story is simple and powerful – everything Mr. Dickens hoped, I’m sure.
I had always found the beautiful tale engaging. Scrooge, Fred, Fezziwig, and the Cratchit family are imaginary figures that bring holiday entertainment and a thoughtful moment or two.
At least, those were my feelings until I read the book and watched the play all in one season. And then the real message of Dickens’ Carol struck me like “a stake of holly through my heart.” Christmas means change. Change for the worst of us, and change for the best of us. Change for all of us.
Scrooge is the worst of the worst. As we watch him we can’t help but think, “I’m not THAT bad!” “I don’t say ‘Bah Humbug.’” “I give to the poor…sometimes.” “I don’t treat people like Scrooge treated Bob Cratchit.” Nope. We don’t. Yet, I couldn’t help but see a tiny piece of myself in every scene that unfolded with Scrooge.
Have I ever been so distracted by money or business or technology that I could barely look up when a loved one came to visit? Have I missed opportunities to share joy and hope? Have I selfishly demanded performance from people for my own personal goals? Or, as Marley so powerfully reminds, was “mankind my business?”
Dickens never intended to label us as evil. But Scrooge, to some degree, lives in all of us. And from his fantastic story we learn that if he changed, then we can, too. Change is possible in our early years. Change is possible in our later years. Change is possible on Christmas morning. Change is possible after decades of old habits. There is always hope for change, because of Christ and Christmas. It is a miracle.
Two messages of Christmas change are intertwined in Dickens’ story. The first is the miracle of physical life. “And to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he (Ebenezer) was a second father.” Christmas brings the hope of healing and resurrection.
And the second is the miracle of life-long change, which leads to eternal life. “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more…And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well.”
I find it no coincidence that the New Year comes exactly a week after Christmas. The calendar gives us a December of celebrating, hoping, singing, giving, receiving and remembering. And then the chance to start afresh and anew in January. In fact, the New Year comes because of Christmas.
Even the Scrooges among us – and the Scrooge tendencies within us – can change through the grace of God. Indeed, He wants us to change and become even a little more forgiving, a little more giving, a little more joyful, a little more compassionate.
This message of change is truly a Christmas Carol. A joyful song of redemption. A hymn of gladness. A hopeful anthem. An Hallelujah shout.
Thank you, Mr. Dickens, for your touching tale of praise.
In fact, I echo your plea that we each might know “how to keep Christmas well. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” Yes, as Tiny Tim aptly observed, “God bless Us, Every One!”