One of my favourite traditions at Christmas is seeing a theatre production of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Last year, I took my friends David Hamilton and Nick Williams to see Simon Callow in his one-man play. One year, I took twelve family and friends to see Patrick Stewart’s one-man show at the Albery Theatre, London. Last weekend, Hollie and I went to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Edgar’s adaptation. This Friday we go to the Old Vic Theatre to see Rhys Ifans play Ebenezer Scrooge. You get the picture, right!
A Christmas Carol was published on 19th December 1843. The first edition sold out by Christmas Eve. It is one of the most loved short stories ever written. Like all great literature, you can read it as a psychology paper, a political commentary and…a spiritual allegory. Most years, I try to make time to read the novella as well. This usually means staying up late, after the children have fallen asleep, sitting by the Christmas tree, fire crackling, with a plate of mince pies. It’s worth it because the prose in A Christmas Carol is full of poetry, song and inspiration.
Ebenezer Scrooge is the main character of A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens describes Scrooge as, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” He is mean-spirited, and all he cares about is money. He doesn’t care for Christmas. “If I could work my will,” says Scrooge indignantly, “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
In the Preface to A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote: “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the “Ghost of an Idea”, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it. Their faithful Friend and Servant, C. D.” Dickens wants us to meditate on the true purpose of Christmas, and to remember the “Ghost of an Idea”, the real meaning of Christmas.
Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption is the central story of A Christmas Carol. The story begins a full seven years after Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, who was “already dead” and “as dead as a doornail”, pays Scrooge a visit and warns him he is to be visited by three ghosts: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
How did Scrooge get this way? Why does he hate Christmas? The Ghost of Christmas Past shows us that Scrooge suffered three big heartbreaks. First, the loss of his mother who died giving birth to him. Second, the death of his beloved sister Fanny, who had a heart of gold. Third, the break-up with his fiancée Belle, who felt bereaved because of Scrooge’s obsession with money. Because of these unhealed heartbreaks, Scrooge had given up on love.
Who exactly is Scrooge? He represents the person who still carries some resentment from the past. He is any of us who crucify ourselves with old wounds, bitterness, and anger. The Ghost of Christmas Past also shows us a time when Scrooge was an innocent and happy boy. His innocence is forgotten, but not entirely lost. Our Soul – the holy child – remains clothed in goodness, innocence and grace. Angels hover over each of us praying that we remember our holiness.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
One hero of A Christmas Carol is Scrooge’s impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit. Another hero is Scrooge’s nephew Fred. Both Bob Cratchit and Fred hold faith that the real Ebenezer Scrooge is not yet dead. Bob’s youngest son, Tiny Tim, is a happy boy who is seriously ill. Perhaps he is a symbol for Scrooge’s holy child, and the holiness in each of us, that we must pay attention to if we are enter the spirit of Christmas.
It’s because Bob Cratchit and Fred don’t’ give up on Scrooge, that Scrooge can’t give up on himself. And it’s because Scrooge has seen Tiny Tim that he knows some sort of redemption is still possible.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge a scene of a man’s funeral. Who has died? Scrooge is then shown a scene of The Cratchit family mourning the passing of Tiny Tim. And finally, the Ghost shows Scrooge a neglected grave with a tombstone bearing Scrooge’s name. Scrooge has been warned. He has been told that the future will be the same as the past unless he makes a choice now.
A Christmas Carol is a story of forgiveness. Scrooge releases the past. He finds redemption. He experiences a resurrection. “I will honour Christmas in my heart,” says Scrooge, “and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” Scrooge heals his life by choosing his innocence over vengeance. By embracing the holy child within, he remembers his own holiness, and thereby he is reborn.
Scrooge chose love, in spite of his past. This love, which was all but the “Ghost of an Idea”, has saved him, and now he wants to share his love with one and all.
Charles Dickens was inspired to write A Christmas Carol after he had visited the Field Lane Ragged School, where he met many young, starving, illiterate orphans. A Christmas Carol is full of meditations for Christmas and the holiday season. For example, “What does it feel like to forgive the past?” And, “What is it like to be me when I let go of resentment?” And, “How can I live the spirit of Christmas this year?” And “How can I choose love?”
Thanks to A Christmas Carol, the spirit of Christmas is not forgotten, and I am deeply thankful to Mr Charles Dickens for helping me.
A Merry Christmas to you.