Almost every Christmas season, I read Dickens’ famous Christmas tale aloud to my children. It is remarkable to me that small children often love this story. Because I perceived it as a ghost story, I expected my children to be fearful at the first reading, but instead they accepted it as a unique way that Scrooge “learned his lesson” and they rejoiced to find Scrooge a changed man in the morning.
I know there are many portrayals of this work. I remember seeing a lively melodramatic stage version when I was a child. There are cartoon versions and movie versions and so on and so forth. But reading the actual work is a thing apart. There are so many little lessons ready to change the reader’s heart, if the reader allows. I think, for instance, of this conversation early in the story:
“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest.”
Scrooge’s nephew knows a secret our modern world does not: there is a type of profit which is not financial.
This is built upon when the first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, reveals the delightful Christmas celebrations of the Fezziwig family (Scrooge having been apprenticed to Mr. Fezziwig in his youth):
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”
“Small!” echoed Scrooge.
The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said:
“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.“
Do you see? The theme is continued: there are intangible delights in this world which cannot be quantified. And yet there is more here. We could think for a week on this passage! Why, herein lies the power of the mother, of the husband, of the corporate boss, of the business owner. Those in authority have the power, lying in a million small details, to render happiness to those beneath them.
That is a wonderful thought. Surely our service to Christ demands consideration of this fact.
We see again, the profit of the intangible, when the Ghost of Christmas present reveals to us the nature of the celebration of Christmas in the home of the impoverished Cratchit family:
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time…
Underlying all of this is the ironic state of the soul of Scrooge. There is a constant acknowledgment that brute logic would have us believe that riches make a happy Christmas. Scrooge should be the happiest of all, and yet he is the one whose heart is completely untouched by Christmas.
Of course, Dickens is here only affirming the words of Christ:
Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
Keeping Christmas, as Dickens said so long ago, is nothing less than the joy of a rich soul (not a rich pocketbook) overflowing.
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