Friday, December 20, 2013

On Christmas

I have never been a huge "Christmas" guy. Some years we're a little late getting the decorations up. I'm not obsessed with traveling a thousand miles or more to observe Christmas. Most Christmas music gets me scrambling for the "off" switch. Gifts are nice, but life goes on, with or without them.
The exception to my blase' attitude is Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". I don't know how many versions exist on film, but I have a hard time turning off any of them. I've even been choked up by an animated depiction of the story. Dickens could not have known that his lifetime was spent in a time and place in which capitalism was at its very worst, but even then, people found ways to enjoy life, no doubt unaware how future generations would see them.
An important scene in this short volume takes place near the beginning, when Marley's ghost confronts Scrooge, warning him to avoid the fate he himself had met. Scrooge, taken aback, makes a feeble attempt to compliment Marley on his business skills, even though Marley had been dead seven years. But the ghost would have no part of being patronized. "Business!" Marley laments with the perfect hindsight of post-mortality, no doubt speaking for Dickens himself, "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!" Different film adaptations may have these words phrased differently, but they never fail to deliver a punch to my emotions.
Although he is the main character, Scrooge is more a project on which to build a good man than the story's actual hero. There are several admirable characters in the story, but none, I believe, more so than Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's long-suffering clerk. Cratchit is a family man who struggles to stay employed by Scrooge while asking the occasional  favor of the boss, such as taking Christmas as a paid holiday. He is all too aware of Scrooge's shortcomings, but refuses to rail at him, even to his own wife, who has no such compunction. Cratchit is also the father of a little boy, Tiny Tim, whose health threatens to end his his young life. I have great respect for Cratchit, who must deal with life's complications as best he can, under circumstances that would buckle the knees of most.
Of course, there's a happy ending. Scrooge sees, with the aid of supernatural spirits, things both as they are, and as they could be, and his conversion is complete. He even joins the Cratchit family for Christmas dinner, a goose purchased that very morning, and promises on the spot to pay for the best health care available to Tiny Tim.. And who hasn't teared up at the little boy's holiday wish, "God bless us, every one!"? Not me, I can tell you.    
So, is Christmas the "most wonderful time"? I suppose it's like saying that Valentine's Day is the "most loving day" or that Thanksgiving is the day of the"most gratitude". These are attitudes we should aspire to every day. But it's impossible to oppose a day set apart to manifest Christian love. Anyway, I hope I never get in the way of someone being happy.


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