by Curt Kovener
Life in December 2020 may feel as if we’re in a production of “A Christmas Carol.”
For Ebenezer Scrooge, the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future forced him to do some soul searching. For folks today, this tumultuous pandemic year has led to such introspection, too.
The message in Charles Dickens’ masterpiece still draws people 177 years after he wrote it. Most fans of “A Christmas Carol” already know its plot. Yet, they want to see it unfold.
Perhaps the new Christmas Classic is the film “The Man Who Invented Christmas” the story of how Dickens came to write ‘A Christmas Carol’ which changed our views of the holiday more than any churches possible could. And perhaps even changed church teachings and practice about kindness for those less fortunate and peace on earth, goodwill towards mankind.
Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” as a commentary on the plight of the working poor in 19th-century England. As a boy, Dickens’ father fell into debt and was placed into a debtors prison in London. At age 12, that author to-be was forced to work in a blacking factory. Years later, he turned that hardship into a lesson for the society around him.
The concept of child labor sounds ancient today. The concept and practice of social injustice isn’t outdated, unfortunately.
The Dickens’ classic features literature’s most famous two-word phrase — “bah, humbug.” Scrooge uses it to swat away concerns for the working poor and indigent children, and the joys of the Christmas season. Bitter over his own life’s losses, old Ebenezer refuses to share his wealth to aid those he deems less hard-working, undeserving or inferior. Then, the ghosts interrupt Scrooge’s sleep on Christmas Eve, reminding him of what he’s done, its impact on others, and the consequences he’ll face.
Perhaps today we use “bah, humbug”as our response to the distancing from family and friends that Covid wrought.
Why do we so enjoy a story now nearly 180 years after it was written? We want to see the reformation of this guy who’s been lost. Because if he can, then maybe there is hope for us.
We all embrace our Ghost of Christmas Past: the warm memories of growing up during the holiday with family and friends.
The Ghost of Christmas Future gives Scrooge a visionary tour of his employee Bob Cratchit and family observing Christmas without their frail son Tiny Tim, Scrooge’s funeral attended by only two fellow businessmen hoping for some of Ebenezer’s money, and finally his tombstone.
“But Spirit, tell me, is there hope? Is there a chance for redemption?” Scrooge pleads. “I’m not the man I was. I’ve changed.”
And as we know, Scrooge does indeed change. Generosity replaces his miserly greed. Care for the poor replaces his selfishness. The well-being of employee Bob Cratchit and his family matters now. Scrooge no longer shuts himself off from his own family.
But those reversals only come after Scrooge looks inward. It’s easier to watch Scrooge endure that accountability check than doing so on ourselves. How many of us would like those ghosts to come into our life and show us of our foibles?
The year 2020 has placed lots of us in Scrooge’s position, perhaps for different reasons. Its impositions have peeled away the layers of our routines, down to the core essentials.
Maybe we’re appreciating parts of our lifestyles that have been temporarily halted because of the spreading COVID-19. Or, we’re realizing some things held too high a priority in our lives. Or, we’re seeing loved ones and friends as more precious than before, especially those kept distant by our isolation. Some may rethink their treatment of others with different viewpoints on the election, or those demonstrating over social injustices, or folks whose health put at risk by not masking up.
Even in this surging pandemic, we can experience Dickens’ story. Dozens of film versions exist, dating from the 1930s to the present. Anyone can find a version of “A Christmas Carol” that will connect with them.
And even in 2020, no matter our past or present, we can be reminded that we all can be redeemed. And for that Tiny Tim proclaims “God bless us, everyone.”