Charles Dickens is sometimes credited as the man who invented Christmas — not, of course, the celebration of the birth of Christ, but the modern phenomenon of Christmas as we know it. Before A Christmas Carol, December 25 was just another reason to get drunk. (For a detailed exploration of this topic, check out this pastor’s blog who has written far more extensively on the subject: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/christmas-according-to-dickens/.)
I’m a deep admirer of Dickens.When I think of A Christmas Carol, I feel “Christmasy” inside. Somehow, Christmas is as it should be: food, fellowship, dancing, singing, and rest from labor… but all of this with Death as a visitor. Scrooge‘s vision of his own grave is the climax of Scrooge’s conversion. And the grave is the constant companion throughout the whole little book. Visits from ghosts, both known and unknown. Even bits of conversation allude to it. Fred says:
the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
It is the grave that gives A Christmas Carol its spiritual depth.
When I think of our modern-day American Christmas, the grave is nowhere near. The commercial craze to buy, buy, buy is a symptom of our manic, emphatic denial of death. Black Friday proves it every year. Manic. Denial. Of Death. Up to our ears in debt, we add to it with gifts from China. There is very little of Scrooge’s conversion in it at all. (I’m speaking personally here.) I do not feel the great relief to be alive. I do not feel the deep thankfulness to give or receive. I feel very little but the guilt of not cutting it and resentfulness that having a quiet meal is not enough. I can hear voices argue with me, Oh, but a simple meal is enough. Just being with your family is enough. Don’t lie. You know it’s not enough. You would never celebrate Christmas with just a meal. There must be gifts involved. Newly bought gifts. Gifts bought from stores with wrapping bought from stores. And the weeks preceding it must be spent shopping in stores.
If you’re flush with cash, or you have room on your credit cards, or young and just don’t care yet, the grave seems far away.
If you’re working long hours and worried about getting food on the table, and 40 is looming near or long gone, and there is no money for retirement, and the bills piling higher are just papers to stack in a corner that will translate into angry phone calls without resolutions, and an armed North Korea makes you want to stock-pile food but you’ve used your last bag of beans, and the Christmas tree was a gift rather than a big ordeal with the kids choosing the perfect one, and there aren’t any gifts under it and you can’t see any way to put them there in the near future, then, my friend … you may feel the wallowing sadness of fellow-passengers to the grave.
That’s more like it. That’s a Dickensian Christmas. For whether you are poor in pocket or poor in spirit, we need each other.
If you feel like that, I’d like to invite you to Christmas dinner. We’re having ham because that’s what we have in the freezer. We’ll make it delicious because we have more time than money — and we love good food. No gifts. It just makes us feel bad. We’ll be thankful for the few things we have: each other, a roof over our head, and Christ within us.
So, have a Dickensian Christmas, fellow-passenger to the grave.
- Dickensian Christmas (lhgardener1988.wordpress.com)
- 6 Great Activities To Introduce Kids to Charles Dicken’s “Christmas Carol.” (loonyliterature.com)
- Malton residents raise £27,000 to ‘bring home’ signed copy of A Christmas Carol (independent.co.uk)
- Phillips Phunny: “Humbug – The Christmas Carol Supercut” (y98.cbslocal.com)
- Charles Dickens Museum Reopens after £3m Restoration (winningreview.co.uk)
- The much maligned Mr Scrooge (robertkyriakides.wordpress.com)