homeabout usarchivelinkscontactsearch  
       
 

A transformed Scrooge visits Bob Cratchit in this John Leech illustration from the 1843 edition of "A Christmas Carol."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Humbug to Humble: "A Christmas Carol" Lives On

Dickens’ classic tale endures as a parable of the most important of Christmas gifts--forgiveness.

By Mary Beth Crain

If there’s one story everyone knows, it’s “A Christmas Carol.” The saga of the miraculous overnight transformation of the world’s meanest man into a grateful, humble, compassionate human being has touched untold millions—more like billions—of people since its publication 164 years ago. It hit the stands December 16, 1843, and within a week had sold 6,000 copies. What writer today wouldn’t kill for that kind of a success?

“A Christmas Carol” has been so popular and enduring, in fact, that it’s become part of our very linguistic heritage. Expressions like “Bah, humbug!” and “God bless us, every one!” are so familiar to us that they need no explaining. In fact, the two main characters, Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, are such powerful embodiments of bad and good that there have been, and will continue to be, countless movie adaptations of the story, each benefiting from these expertly drawn characters who, after 164 years, are still so vividly real that we feel as if we know them, and have always known them.

That’s why actors relish the chance to try their hand at Scrooge, a man of great complexity. In the hands of a lesser writer, Scrooge might have been a mere one- dimensional caricature of evil. But Charles Dickens’ wit, insight and empathy made him not a monster but a lost soul capable of redemption. In a way, “A Christmas Carol” is the story of the Prodigal Son, who strays from God’s flock into a narcissistic life of materialism and selfishness but who, when he finally repents, is welcomed back into the arms of his loving father with redoubled joy.

This is not a coincidental analogy. Dickens was a member of the Anglican Church, but religion to him was far more than just going to church. His personal brand of Christianity emphasized a life of good deeds over public piety. “Dickens’ beliefs,” notes one historian, “were Unitarian. His God blessed all, his Christ was a very good man, his religion countenanced no creeds.” I’ll bet you don’t know—I didn’t, anyway—that Dickens wrote a book, “Life of Our Lord,” which was published after his death, and which explains his attitude toward religion.

It is Christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is Christianity to love our neighbor as ourselves…It is Christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to show that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

The great thing about “A Christmas Carol” is that it is all that. It reminds us that if God can forgive Ebenezer Scrooge, He can forgive anyone, but it’s never for one moment preachy. The representatives of good in the story—innocent Tiny Tim, the gentle Cratchit family, Scrooge’s good-natured nephew—are not annoyingly virtuous but rather believable and lovable. Dickens is funny and wry and oh, so full of compassion for everyone, particularly his hateful main character. As the Ghost of Christmas Past takes cranky old Scrooge back into his childhood and young adulthood, we learn why he became such a hard-hearted misanthrope: because his mother died giving birth to him and his father hated him for it, because he lived a life of terrible abandonment. As his father won’t allow him to come home from school at Christmas, young Ebenezer is forced to remain all alone in the cold, empty schoolrooms while his classmates are off on holidays. When the only person who ever cared for him—his beloved sister, Fanny—dies in childbirth, Scrooge turns his back on God and humanity. And, exactly as his father had done to him, he rejects Fanny’s child—his nephew—refusing to acknowledge him for the rest of his life. Until, of course, the Christmas Ghosts work their miracles on him.

Long before Freud, Dickens understood psychology and the effect of childhood trauma on the adult psyche. And he knew that, sadly, most of us will never undergo a full inside-out overhaul as Scrooge does. We tend to remain in denial about our faults and our pain, unwilling to face ourselves as we really are and do what it takes to change our bad behavior. So, Dickens created a great parable of hope. The Christ child—crippled, sick little Tiny Tim—prays for the world and even for “Mr. Scrooge,” the man whom everyone hates, and the Prodigal Son—Scrooge—has a spiritual awakening and devotes the rest of his life to helping humanity.

When the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge how his miserliness to the Cratchit family has rendered them unable to pay for the medical procedure that could cure Tiny Tim, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come reveals that as a result, Tim will die, Scrooge becomes Tim’s benefactor and the boy gets well. It’s the supreme biblical twist—Christ saved from the cross by mankind’s embrace of good over evil. The real miracle in “A Christmas Carol” is not simply the transformation of Scrooge, but the revelation that every time we choose to do good, to be generous and selfless, to truly care about our fellow man, it is we, not God or ghosts, who work miracles.

So, God bless us, every one. And let us in turn bless everyone with, as Abraham Lincoln once referred to goodness, “the angels of our better nature.” Merry Christmas!

 

Comment on this article here.

Email article Print article

Senior editor Mary Beth Crain's last essay for SoMA was You Call That a Latke?

Back to top

 


May 7, 2010

The Mother of Mother's Day
By Mary Beth Crain
Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day, hated flowers, candy, and greeting cards. Our kind of mom!

January 28, 2010

Securing Your Pet's Post-Rapture Future
By Mary Beth Crain
What will happen to Christians' pets after the Rapture? No worries. These animal-loving atheists will feed them.

January 13, 2010

Whither Wheaton?
By Andrew Chignell
The evangelical flagship college charts a new course.

December 21, 2009

Ho, Ho, Hollywood
By Mary Beth Crain
My four top Christmas Movies.

December 14, 2009

Bad Dream Girls
By Mary Beth Crain
Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean remind us that in America, dumb and dumber equals rich and richer.

July 16, 2009

The New, Updated Gospel of Mark
By Stephanie Hunt
In South Carolina, Vacation Bible School gets Sanforized.

July 16, 2009

Why Is a Spiritual Advisor Like a Lay's Potato Chip?
By Mary Beth Crain
Answer: Betcha Can't Have Just One!

December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Blues
By Ondine Galsworth
Your best friend is dead. Your mother is bi-polar. And you've lived your life as a fake Catholic. Where do you go from here?

December 23, 2008

Christmas Gifts of Long Ago
By Mary Beth Crain
What would it be like if today's techno-spoiled kids were forced to have a good old-fashioned Victorian Christmas?

November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks in Thankless Times
By Mary Beth Crain
In times of fear and despair, gratitude is sometimes all we've got left.

November 16, 2008

Seeing Red
By Stephanie Hunt
Obama's presidential victory is a huge step forward for our nation. But in the Carolinas, it's still North versus South.

October 29, 2008

Ghost Writer
By Mary Beth Crain
Our senior editor talks about her new book, "Haunted U.S. Battelfields," the perfect read for a creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, altogether ooky All Hallows Eve.

October 26, 2008

The Poison Seeds Spread by Dying Congregations
By Matthew Streib
Just as a certain presidential candidate has gone to the extremes of negativity in a desperate attempt to keep his campaign alive, so parallels can be seen on the religious front.

October 11, 2008

Palin Watch V: Troopergate, Poopergate!
By Mary Beth Crain
Confronted with a scathing indictment of abuse of power, Governor Palin thumbs her nose at the "Troopergate" report.

October 4, 2008

Palin Watch IV: Post-Debate Musings
By Mary Beth Crain
This hockey mom belongs in the penalty box.

To view more articles, visit
SoMA's archive
here



 
             
......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Copyright © 2014 SoMAreview, LLC. All Rights Reserved