The old decade is behind us. As we enter a New Year and a new decade, what wisdom has informed our behavior? What resolutions to better ourselves will we make this year? To help guide you into your future, let us reflect on lessons that we can learn from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
From his youthful experiences, Charles Dickens knew the humiliating scourges of poverty and England’s neglect of its poor and their children. On December 19, 1843, he published A Christmas Carol. His main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, shuts God and others out of his heart. Scrooge is a pathetic, tight-fisted covetous creature who has no room for God, Christmas and Christmas cheer. He is contrasted with his nephew Fred and his clerk Bob Cratchit who are very poor yet have love in their hearts and freely accept this gift of love from God and share it with others. These two men will not let their meager circumstances defeat them.
After Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, died seven years earlier, Scrooge moved into Marley’s apartment. Then one Christmas evening the ghost of Marley appears with chains attached to his middle that are attached on the other end to “cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.”
Of course, Scrooge is shaken by Marley’s appearance and asks “Why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?” Marley replies:
It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me! And witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!” I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.
Scrooge do you know “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It is full and heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain.”
Scrooge asks the Ghost to comfort him who replies:
I have none to give. It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all permitted to me. I cannot rest. I cannot stay. I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting house—mark me! In life my spirit never rose beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me…No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”
Scrooge responds to Marley’s statements by saying, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.” In frustration or anger Marley says:
Business. Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!
At this time of the year, I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned down, and never raised them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!
Hear me! My time is nearly gone…I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.
You will be haunted by Three Spirits…Without their visits you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one…Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!
Marley’s ghost walks towards the window which rises on its own accord to let him out. Then Scrooge looks out the window and sees phantoms wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they go. Every one of them wears chains like Marley’s Ghost.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
On schedule, the Spirit of Christmas Past appears to Scrooge who learns that this Ghost will show Scrooge his past for his reclamation and welfare. They pass through the wall and stand upon an open country road. Scrooge recognizes the people and the scene as part of his childhood. Then he sees himself in a deserted school room while all his classmates have gone to their homes for Christmas. Many more scenes and memories from Scrooge’s past flash before him.
The Ghost of Christmas Past then shows an older Scrooge to Scrooge in the same dreary classroom. Then a door opens and a little girl comes darting in. She puts her arms around Scrooge and addresses him as her “Dear, dear brother.” She says, “I have come to bring you home, dear brother…To bring you home, home, home…for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And you’re to be a man…and are never to come back here. Then she began to drag him, in her childish eagerness, towards the door; and he rejoiced at going.
Scrooge and the Ghost agreed that little Fan had a large heart. She was the deceased mother of his nephew who had that day stopped by his office to wish him a Merry Christmas to which Scrooge said Bah Humbug.
The Ghost’s and Scrooge’s next stop is at a warehouse run by Fezziwig who throws a Christmas Eve party with food and dance for his employees, apprentices, his wife, and the three Miss Fezziwigs. Scrooge’s heart lightens and is full of gratitude. The Ghost asks Scrooge why he praises Fezziwig and the money he spent on this party. Scrooge says:
It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render 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 light and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up; what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.
The Ghost next takes Scrooge to when he is older and at the side of a fair young maiden in a mourning dress; in whose eyes there are tears, which sparkle in the light that shines out of the Ghost of Christmas Past. She says softly to Scrooge:
It matters little to you. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve…You fear the world too much…I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion engrosses you…With a full heart and for the love of who you once were, I release you from our contract of old.
Scrooge can’t stand this memory and wants to be taken home. But the Ghost says he must show him one more shadow. The last shadow was the happy household of Scrooge’s sweetheart, her husband and children. Scrooge can’t take it anymore and tries to extinguish the light above the Spirit’s head. Then Scrooge falls into a deep slumber in his own bed.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
The Ghost of Christmas Present arrives on time. Scrooge tells the Ghost that he learned a lesson which is working on him and that he wants to profit from what the Ghost will teach him.
The Ghost tells Scrooge to touch his robe and to hold fast to it. Then they are out on the street. The weather is cold. Yet there is an air of cheerfulness as people answer the church bells.
The Spirit then leads Scrooge straight to his clerk’s Bob Cratchit’s dwelling of four rooms and 15 children. Bob arrives with Tiny Tim on his shoulders. An iron frame supports his limbs, and he holds in his hands his crutch. After observing their Christmas feast, Scrooge asks the Ghost if Tiny Tim will live.
The Ghost tells Scrooge that he sees a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die and as you have proclaimed will help decrease the population. Scrooge feels really sorry for having wished this. Scrooge also notes that the Cratchit family is a happy, loving family with scant means and clothing.
Next the Ghost takes Scrooge to his nephew Fred’s place where he, his wife, and friends are enjoying a contagious laugh about Scrooge. Fred tells them that Uncle Scrooge believes Christmas is a humbug and that his offenses carry their own punishment. He fails to enjoy the benefits of his wealth to make himself comfortable. He suffers because of his ill whims and will not even join them for Christmas dinner. Then Fred has everyone drink to Scrooge’s health.
Quickly this scene vanishes and the Spirit and Scrooge are once again upon their travels. It is a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge has his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appear to be condensed into the space of time they pass together. It is strange, too, that while Scrooge remains unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grows older and his hair grays.
Then Scrooge notices a foot or claw beneath the Spirit’s robe and asks him about it. As the Spirit lifts his robe, Scrooge sees two wretched, abject, frightful, hideous miserable children. They are a boy and a girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacingly. Scrooge asks the Spirit if the children belong to him. And the Spirit responds:
They are Man’s. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
Then the bell strikes twelve and the Spirit is gone.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
As the last stroke ceases to vibrate, Scrooge remembered the prediction of Jacob Marley, and lifted up his eyes. He beheld a solemn Phantom draped and hooded in a deep black garment which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible except for one outstretched hand.
Scrooge asked him if he were the Ghost of the Future and said:
I fear you more than any Specter I have seen. But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?
The Ghost gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them. Then the Spirit pointed Scrooge to a knot of men who were discussing unsympathetically and without emotion someone’s death. These men were wealthy business associates of Scrooge. From there, the Spirit leads Scrooge into the back alleys to a pawn shop where three scavengers are selling a dead man’s possessions. One woman boasted of how she removed a good shirt from a corpse so that she could make a profit on it. Next the Spirit took Scrooge to the dead man who was covered with a sheet because he was naked. No one was present to grieve the death of this man.
Next the Spirit takes Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s home where everyone is grieving over the death of Tiny Tim. From there, they quickly look in on Scrooge’s office. The furniture is not the same, and the figure in the chair is not himself. The Phantom points Scrooge to a churchyard and to one specific grave stone that has his name engraved on it. Scrooge begs:
No, Spirit! Oh no, no! Spirit, hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for these visits. Why show me this, if I am past all hope! Good Spirit your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life! I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!
In his agony, Scrooge caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him.
Holding up his hands in one last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrank, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.
Yes! And the bedpost is his own. The bed is his own, the room is his own. Best and happiest of all, the time before him is his own, to make amends in! Scrooge gleefully says:
I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!
Scrooge hurriedly dresses. Then he calls out to a young boy and hires him to get the prize turkey from the Poulterer to be sent to the Cratchit family by coach. When Scrooge meets on the street the gentleman who was collecting for the poor, he stops him and whispers into his ear a large sum of money he will give him. The gentleman can’t believe what he just heard. Scrooge insists that he accept the money as back payments and to stop by his office tomorrow for it.
Next Scrooge goes to his nephew’s home and is heartily welcomed to join everyone for dinner.
The following morning Scrooge hopes to get to his office early and before the arrival of Bob Cratchit. Bob is late. Scrooge scolds him for his lateness. Then he enthusiastically says:
A Merry Christmas, Bob! A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family.
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.
Scrooge had no further exchanges with Spirits. It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim prayed, “God Bless Us, Every One!”
We know we cannot catch the wind nor alter the direction it blows. We should not build our lives on weak and shifting sand. We should affirm life, avoid the bondage of sin and idolatry, and accept with joy the time given us and the toil which is our lot. We cannot live on bread alone. We need to nourish and balance our spiritual lives with the rest of life.
- How real are your Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present?
- Is mankind your business?
- Do you believe that you have any responsibility for the needy, the hungry, the exploited, the refugee, the asylum seeker, the abused, the enslaved, the hated, the homeless, the falsely imprisoned and other vulnerable people?
- Do you make eye contact with others in public places or do you stay glued to your iPhone?
- How did past choices determine the trajectory of your life?
- Is spiritual hunger more devastating than physical hunger? What makes you think so?
- What does the poor Cratchit family have that many rich families lack?
- The Ghost of Christmas Present hides beneath his robe the children Ignorance and Want. How did Scrooge and people today help create these children?
- How can their situation be made better?
- What impact can the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come have upon you?
- Are there any changes you could make about your future course in life?
- What are they and how achievable are they?