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It’s Christmas and all the creatures, meek and mild have gotten kitty treats. The three turtles laying got shrimp and D made me eggnog pancakes. I know, it’s just like a Christmas story! We have opened our first Christmas presents. (We open one an hour all day long. Stretch it all out, so we have a very Merry Christmas.)
So in the spirit of Christmas D and I read the classic, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I think I have seen three or four different film and animated versions in movies and tv shows… but the book struck me as something very different. I really didn’t expect it to be a story of Christianity’s goodness with visits from the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and the redemption of man-kind on the day of birth of Jesus Christ. Now I am not a really religious person, I have my faith but I don’t feel the need to rail against things that are irreverent, nor do I read into things a heavy handed preaching that is not there. So this is a work of literary criticism and nothing more.
Through out many of the ancient societies and in history, the Usury has held the place of the worst avarice and greed. Cato in de re Rustica was quoted as saying, “What do you think of the Usury?–What do you think of murder?” That belief was held also by Dante who placed the money lenders in the lowest ring of the seventh circle of the Inferno… below that of murders. The Usury had never had the endorsement by those of in common society, they were merely a tool to keep desperate people desperate and those who earned their wealth through it’s money changing hands and not by the works of labor were seen as particular devils. So it is no surprise that Dickens places Mr Scrooge as a man of the Usury. He believes only in the value of the coin he trades and the wealth that he has earned through it’s means.
On Christmas Eve he is acting in his typical heartless ways prior to leaving the office, he belittles those looking for help for charity, snubs his nephew and then begrudges his employees need for Christmas day off. All with a hollow clink of the change in his hollow heart and overfull pocket.
Upon arriving home, whispers of his conscience prickle him, he sees his former partner’s face in the knocker of his front
door. At first he thinks he’s seeing things. It’s as if arriving home to an empty home drives home an unspoken regret. Not long after becoming comfortable for the night, Jacob Marley’s ghost arrives in full form. Like those in the seventh level of hell, Marley has known no peace in death, admitting that he travels far and without ceasing, while often unseeingly being by Scrooge’s side. He has died a mortal life and there is nothing for him but an eternity of paying for his sins. He warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits and that they will arrive over the next coming three days. Surprising to Scrooge, time passes backward and forward in a supernatural way, leaving Scrooge at a loss for the time that has come or gone. He knows only of the time that he is witnessing with the spirits.
When the first spirit comes, “It was a strange figure–like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man… It’s hair, which hung about it’s neck and down it’s back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle on it, and the tenderest bloom was on it’s skin.” His description goes on to say that he had the bearing of strength and purity while his countenance was beautiful and by the means of his dress was emblematic of the different seasons of the year. Lastly, “the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of it’s head there sprang a bright clear jest of light, by which [all else was seen].
The unguessable age and beauty, the incapability to pin point the true nature of this many qualities which shifted and passed the countenance of this spirit, and his halo, say to me that this first spirit is that of the immense grace. A supernatural force who can show, as he does with Scrooge, the colors of our hearts throughout the years. Reminding us of the importance of the family we have known, the things which have shaped us and those that turn our hearts bright and dark. During his visit he bades Scrooge, “Rise! And walk with me.” And so Scrooge does.
The last sad chapter of Scrooge’s visit with the Spirit of Christmas Past is the parting of ways with the woman who had loved him in their poverty but questions his faith in his wealth. She says to him, “It matters little… To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me.” Scrooge questions her asking, “What Idol has displaced you?” her answer is, “A golden one.” Scrooge is now worshipping false idols and has lost the companion who loves him to it. A more empty existence he embraces.
The second spirit is a man who arrives with an feast of goods to surround him. And with his will, the horn which he carries, he goes and he spreads the spirit of the holidays. The goodness of Christianity, to be thoughtful, kind and gracious. He takes Scrooge through the streets where in the hearths of those they path the passion of the spirit burns bright and warm. He asks Scrooge, “You have never seen the like of me before? — Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning my elder brothers born in later years?” But Scrooge can not admit that he knows of the spirit or his family.
The second spirit, that of the word and grace of the Shepard takes Scrooge from the city to the mines and then to the seas. Each visit show Scrooge how those who know this spirit celebrate him with open hearts and share their beliefs with those around them. It’s not a singular phenomenon, the teachings of this spirit is pandemic and those who Scrooge sees are not beaten down by their lack of wealth, matter or circumstance they are joyful for the intangibles and the ability to share their joy with others. The spirit says to Scrooge, “Man, if you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked can’t until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Will you decide what man shall live and what shall die? It may be in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.” The child is the sickly Tiny Tim, an innocent and inspiration to his family. Sick in body but sound of mind.
When the spirit later shows the evil’s of man, Ignorance and Want, Scrooge is warned about them. The boy, Ignorance, the spirit vehemently tells Scrooge, “to beware this boy, for on his brow [the spirit] can see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” The spirit also tells Scrooge that there are those who commit the seven sins, “…who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passions, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry and selfishness in our name.” But reassures him that they do these things on their own and our not the charge of the spirits.
Upon the visit of the last spirit Scrooge is plagued by the silence of the ghost. He leaves him on edge and his visage remains unseen, a mystery in robes. Scrooge follows him as he has made the claim that he wants to change now but that he understands that it is important that he have all three visitations. In this final view of things Scrooge sees that he will die a mortal death that will touch the lives of few. He won’t be able to take his wealth with him and others will come to steal it before his body has even cooled. Few will speak well of him and he becomes aware that those who do know of him only by means of senseless business. No one mourns him. Life ends but his cold existence will continue into a past life just as Marley’s.
This final spirit is the promise of hope through faith. That to find the spirits of the three ghosts inside of you promises you not only happiness in earthly life, but it leaves a more worthwhile legacy to those who survive you. That by touching hearts it is a more personal wealth than that of gathering coin. Scrooge awakes a new man and finds that the visits have given him the gift of renewal on the day that Christ was born. He buys the Cratchit’s a huge turkey and has it delivered anonymously, the good deed needn’t be announced. When he passes the man who sought funds for charity the day before and received a careless reply then, Scrooge stops him and promises him a great boon. And lastly he goes to his nephew and they enjoy the bond of family and good spirit. The following morning the meek Cratchit’s inherit the fortune which they have been denied and a new life is begun.
These visits inspire Scrooge to a better life. The movies don’t truly portray this and I feel two ways about it. I can appreciate the message that Dickens but I think that people are more moved often by the spectral threat of the paranormal. The thought that bad will be brought forth by what you have done and you will be haunted by it, not necessarily that through the haunting you will find redemption. And in our own modern times I think that it often takes a tragedy to produce a miracle and that changes of heart are more of a commercial model than the ways of man. How would Dickens write his story if it were set in our times? Would Scrooge be a Wall Street man and would Tiny Tim have something like autism? And I guess the real heart of the matter would be could Americans free themselves from Ignorance and Want to see how much we let it rule the world today. But at least we can share the words of Tiny Tim, “And God bless us, everyone,” while we compare Christmas presents on Facebook and battle others for after Christmas sales.