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To Honor Christmas and Keep It All the Year - December 2018

posted Dec 17, 2018, 1:11 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review   [ updated Dec 17, 2018, 1:24 PM ]

by John Buzzard ‘19

Amidst the whirlwind of the holiday season, it may be a bit of a cliché to say that “we’ve lost the true spirit of Christmas.” This concept of “the true spirit of Christmas” requires some reflection. While Christmas has mostly become a secular holiday season from an outsider’s perspective, it is impossible to have Christmas without Christ. It is not worn-out to say that Jesus is the reason for the season, because all of the good that comes from Christmas time originates with the birth of Christ. It is crucial to define that the Son of God was brought into this world to save us from ourselves. This Spirit of Christmas is the theme of redemption in which humanity was saved from its ways through the sacrifice of Christ. With this in mind, the purpose of this piece is not to gush over the Nativity. It is to look at one staple of the Christmas season that reflects the redemption of Christ in the holiday season: A Christmas Carol.

These two stories (i.e. Christ’s birth and A Christmas Carol) have been associated with the Christmas season for good reason. They are appealing stories that pull at the heartstrings, and their pull comes from the arc of redemption that is at their core. The redeemed individual from A Christmas Carol is Ebenezer Scrooge. With Scrooge being a, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” he isn’t exactly the most attractive character, and history has thus associated his name with a hatred for the season. I would argue that the title of being a Scrooge should be reclaimed, for he is an example of the spirit of Christmas, redemption through love, which is ultimately a result of Christ’s birth.

How is Ebenezer Scrooge a role model in any way? Wasn’t he the miser that tried to ruin Christmas for everyone? The importance in the role of Scrooge is to show the worst in humanity. Scrooge was not a murderer, a thief, or a monster. He was a man whose heart was hardened by greed, loneliness, and apathy. Scrooge was so miserable that no one, not a beggar nor a child, would reach out to him for any favors or kindness. There is a lesson to be seen in Stave One of A Christmas Carol: we are most alone when we close ourselves off from others. Scrooge demonstrates the sentiments of his inhumanity by seeing the poor as useless, a burden on the population, unless they are put to work. He seems like a lost cause, so what did he do to deserve the intervention of Marley and the Three Ghosts?

It is in this question that we find the Spirit of Christmas through the birth of Christ the Redeemer. We are sinful people. While not inherently monsters, we can become hardened to the suffering of the poor or become deaf to well-wishes of others. Scrooge wasn’t a monster, but he was certainly a difficult case. We must realize that Christ came to save even the hard of heart and the lost causes. Throughout the rest of A Christmas Carol we can see that Scrooge was never a lost cause; he just needed to be guided. This guidance comes with doubts, with a ‘humbug’ and all, as Scrooge doubts his senses by likening Marley to food poisoning and the wails of London’s lost souls to the product of sleep deprivation.

It is in the Ghost of Christmas Past that Scrooge begins to seek his redemption and the audience begins to see why Scrooge became such a jaded wretch. We begin to glimpse his humanity when we see, during a vision of his childhood, how, “Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.” We see Scrooge become saddened when recalling the death of his sister, the joy he experiences with his former employer Fezziwig, and his heartbreak when the love of his life leaves him after prioritizing his wealth out of fear of poverty. When we reflect on our lives and we look at our shortcomings and failures, it is easy to look at God and echo Scrooge in saying, “Why do you delight to torture me?” We beg these feelings to go away, but we will not be able to save ourselves from our misery unless we can process our hardships.

In the Ghost of Christmas Present, we can see a Scrooge that has accepted his lot and is much more willing to take part in his redemption. It is in the first few moments of meeting that Scrooge submits to this Spirit, saying, “conduct me where you will…to-night if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.” There is no more humbug; instead, a willingness to go along in his soul’s redemption is present. Scrooge ends up at Bob Cratchit’s house because the Ghost of Christmas Present is the spirit of sympathy and kindness to the poorest of society. When Scrooge is able to watch the Cratchit family, he is able to see that the poor faces and they have their own lives. Scrooge becomes an active participant in the lives of the poor by being concerned with the fate of Tiny Tim. I believe that the turning point of A Christmas Carol and Scrooge’s redemption comes when the Ghost of Christmas Present responds with Scrooge’s own dismissal of the poor, after which “Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.” We see the mercy and love of Christ in Bob Cratchit, who raises a toast to honor Scrooge as the one who founded the joy of their Christmas dinner. Cratchit does not care to see the evil in men, and rather delights in the good and the joy that exist in every human being. This spirit is still present when Scrooge and the Ghost visit Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, who will not speak ill of his uncle despite their disagreements. Fred believes that he can help to save Scrooge by showing him kindness, visiting every year around Christmas to wish him well and share in the joy of the season. Finally, Scrooge sees the children of Man – Ignorance and Want – with the former being the most dangerous, for ignorance will bring doom to humanity unless it is erased through recognition and care. After these events, we see a penitent Scrooge ready for the final ghost.

In the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, we see a Scrooge that reflects upon his mortality and his legacy. Scrooge witnesses a man very similar to him having his garments stolen and being, essentially, grave-robbed. These individuals aren’t mourners; rather, they take advantage of no one caring about his estate. The only ones who care about Scrooge’s death, shown by the Spirit, are people who are going through a debt crisis because of him. Scrooge needs to witness kindness through death, and sees the grief of the Cratchit family after the death of Tiny Tim. The reminder of death, the memento mori, is an important detail to this Stave because Scrooge is shown his own grave, prompting the realization that all of the malice shown towards the other man was really meant for him. It is in this part that we see the redemption of Christ in Scrooge’s vow to live out the ideals of Christmas for the rest of his life. With Christ as the foundation of the Christmas season, Scrooge is essentially vowing to become like Christ. We are called to honor Christmas and to live in the Past, Present, and the Future. Ultimately, this calling is to be a Scrooge.

In the End of It, we can see that Scrooge is good on his word. Scrooge awakens with a new approach of life in which he states, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man.” Scrooge is certain that it was all real and is certain in the fact that his soul was saved that night. He buys the prize turkey for the Cratchit family, he donates significant amounts of money to the poor, he becomes a better uncle to Fred, he increases Bob’s salary while providing benefits, and he becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim. Perhaps the most important part of A Christmas Carol is the statement that “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more” which is reassuring to an audience that may question the effectiveness of this journey. The ending to A Christmas Carol is extremely powerful because we see Scrooge embodying the Christmas Spirit in the rest of his days, and this means that Scrooge is living an actively Christian lifestyle, emulating the work of Christ. As it is observed in the end, “he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed that knowledge” and, as such, to keep Christmas well would be to show the mercy, love, and charity of Christ.

What can be learned from A Christmas Carol? It is a story of redemption, which is a theme of Christmas, but we can actively see a man go from cruelty to compassion. To be a Scrooge is to be someone who recognizes his own faults and is able to be redeemed by emulating the Christmas season, which means emulating Christ. It is more than just a Christmas tale; it is a message of redemption that encapsulates the true meaning of Christmas without ever overtly stating it. The reader is left to interpret the redemption of Scrooge. We can wonder, “am I worth redeeming? Am I able to change? How can I live Christmas in my heart and keep it all the year?” While we may not have the love of these Christmas ghosts to reach out directly to us, we do have Christ and His Church doing that already and always welcoming us to join them. Will we call this life a “humbug” or will we let ourselves profit from Christ’s mercy? May we be like Scrooge every day of our life, and as is fitting for any commentary on A Christmas Carol, God bless Us, Every One.