Christmastime and A Christmas Carol

On Monday I attended a local one-man performance of Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol. This story is one of my favorites to read during this time of year—and experiencing it along with other community members was a fantastic start to the week. I love this story. I love reading about Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from misanthropic miser to generous and good-hearted gentleman. Scrooge is the perfect example of how change is possible on a personal and on a community level.

One of the major themes of the novel is Scrooge’s reluctance to take action in his society. When he is confronted with the suffering of people in his city, he merely replies “Bah! Humbug!” and ignores the problem.  Even at Christmastime, a time “when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices," Scrooge refuses to act—even though he has more abundance than anyone else he knows. It is not until he is visited by four spirits that he begins to understand the wonderful opportunities he has been given and the desperate need that exists in his community.

It is during Scrooge’s time with the third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, when one of the most powerful scenes of the novel occurs. Together, Scrooge and the Ghost have visited people of all economic classes and seen how goodwill and kindness can be found among all people. The Spirit has spread warmth and hope at every place and to everyone, but is now preparing to leave Scrooge to the Ghost of Christmas Future. Before he leaves, he shows Scrooge two starving, miserable children that he cares for.

Horrified at the suffering he sees, Scrooge asks the Ghost who they are. The response? “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” Scrooge is shocked (as anyone would be on hearing such an explanation), and cries, “Have they no refuge or resource?” Instead of dismissing their suffering as nothing to do with him, Scrooge has finally discovered sympathy. I think that this scene is Scrooge’s turning point. He still doesn’t believe he can change, but he has discovered the desire to change.

If the novel ended at this scene, it would be terribly depressing. But fortunately, Scrooge learns that it is indeed possible to “sponge away the writing” of the future. It is possible to change the course of society and improve lives. It is possible to provide for Want and relieve Ignorance.  How? By recognizing the impact that one person can have.

Scrooge, as lonely and as mean as he was, changed. He impacted the lives of dozens of people in his city, including those of his own nephew and his employee. Because he changed, Tiny Tim survived. Because he changed, Scrooge made a difference.  “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.”

Most of us aren’t exactly like Scrooge. We don’t horde money that we can never spend, we don’t reject friendship, and we don’t refuse to accept the warmth of human connection. But for all of us, there are opportunities to do good that we have neglected—often because we just don’t recognize them. The first step to changing our lives and our community is to recognize those opportunities and make use of them. After all, as Dickens said, “Any spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.”

This year, let’s recognize how much we can do, as individuals. Let’s make a difference in the lives of those around us. Let’s remember that our true business is the “common welfare” of humanity.  Let’s relieve Want and Ignorance by making reading a priority in our lives. By doing so, we will be changing the future for our community.

If you haven't read A Christmas Carol for awhile, check it out! You can find copies here. And if you have read it and don't want to leave Scrooge and co. quite yet, check out one of the fantastic film adaptations of the novel here.