A Christmas Carol in January

Photo by Taha on Unsplash

It’s no longer the holiday season, but, because I’d been thinking for a while about rereading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, I finally did it today.

Like (I imagine) many people, I supposed I knew the story. I recalled the outlines, of course, and remembered parts vividly. The ominous atmosphere surrounding the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has stuck with me best: Scrooge foreseeing the future, including the death of Tiny Tim and a vision of his own grave. I retained the spookiness.

But that’s only ten pages of a fifty-page novella and only one-third of the ghostly visitations. I had forgotten how varied the other experiences are, how joyful some of the visions, and how essentially compassionate the Ghosts. Too many dramatizations on stage and on screen (and in cartoons!) have come between my last reading some decades ago and this one.

Someone recently commented to me that the story really doesn’t have much to do with Christmas, except for the time that it takes place. I didn’t feel I could contradict the person, but I do now. The story is filled with Christmas sounds, smells, sights and family gatherings as we know them and as Dickens largely created them. Here’s Scrooge’s walk in London with the Ghost of Christmas Present:

By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlors, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cozy dinner with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn, to shut out cold and darkness. There, all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. . . But if you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how the Ghost exulted!

Aside from sensory and sentimental associations, the lessons of Christmas and of Christianity, in its best sense, imbue the whole novella. Christmas and Christianity, in their ideal manifestation, are about love, generosity, compassion, and redemption. After the Ghosts’ tutelage, Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” has transformed into “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.” When people laughed at Scrooge, his “own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.” Dickens is conveying the hope essential to the Christmas story.

Of course, I’m not insisting that A Christmas Carol has to be read as a religious text. It has truths and pleasures for everyone. I will politely object, however, the next time anyone asserts in my presence that it has nothing to do with Christmas.

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8 Responses to A Christmas Carol in January

  1. Kathy says:

    Doreen–He’s always worth a read or re-read.

  2. Kathy says:

    Sarah–That film is on my list to re-watch sometime. Yes, I’m glad you concur about the themes. It’s not Christian in a doctrinal sense. It’s ecumenical before there was such a thing.

  3. Kathy says:

    Roger–Thanks for this corroboration! Great minds think alike.

  4. Kathy says:

    Ah, you got me, Fran! I didn’t want to have to explain a fourth ghost, but, you’re right, Marley is the first. (There is no doubt that Marley was dead.) I like all the descriptions in the Present section also. So many parts of the story are happy, which isn’t the impression left by all the adaptations.

  5. Fran Lissemore says:

    I like the descriptions of Christmas all around that the Ghost Of Christmas Present shows Scrooge- on a ship at sea, in a mine (or something like that). It’s kind of like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, most of which doesn’t take place at Christmas either. IAWL also deals with “… love, generosity, compassion, and redemption”.
    I do have to correct you on one thing, Kathy. You refer to GOC Yet to Come as “one-third of the ghostly visitations”. There were four ghosts. Everybody always forgets to count Jacob Marley, who “was dead to begin with”.

  6. Roger Talbott says:

    Amen! Kathy. I seldom preached sermons over again, but I did have one about the Christmas Carol as a parable of Christian conversion that I preached in 5 of the six churches I served. Your post was more succinct than my sermons. And you point out that, on top of the parable, Dickens created Christmas as we know it today. Thank you!

  7. Sarah Becker says:

    I’ve always been partial to the Alastair Sim 1951 film, and it does end with the “good old world” speech, which is very affecting.
    It always strikes me that as soon as he sees his old school, his heart awakens. It’s as if he was already willing to have the ghosts awaken his soul.
    I’m Jewish, but I love the idea that there could be one time of the year when we all care for one another. The ending of “Scrooged” is an enthusiastic portrayal of someone who wants us to feel that way throughout the year.
    As the Beach Boys sang, “Wouldn’t it be nice!”

  8. Doreen Kelleher says:

    Thanks for Sharing your thoughts, Kathy. I can’t remember the last time I read anything by Dickens. A good reminder to go back to the classics.

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