All of us know the plot and many of the characters in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”
We’ve either read the novel or we’ve seen one of the more than two dozen movies made about this classic. Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean-spirited man of business, gave us “Bah Humbug,” and Scrooge’s name itself has become a part of the English language.
Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and Jacob Marley are familiar to most of us, as is the story: Scrooge’s misanthropy and greed; the visitation of Three Christmas spirits—past, present, and future—whose mission is to change his heart for the better; his awakening from miser to a man who will “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Near the beginning of “A Christmas Carol,” the suffering ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner, warns Scrooge that unless he changes his ways, he too will be doomed after death to wander the earth wearing a chain made of “cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought of steel.”
He tells Scrooge, “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”
Later in their conversation, Scrooge says, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
The ghost replied, wringing its hands:
“Business … Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence: All desirable character traits, but sadly gone AWOL in our public forum these last few years. Instead, many of our celebrities and politicians, our “elites,” all too often indulge in malevolence, spite, slander, and innuendo.
We have now entered into the season that provides the setting for “A Christmas Carol.” From late November to mid-January, our calendars bring us a raft of holidays: Thanksgiving (gratitude), Christmas (peace on earth to men of good will), Hanukkah (rededication and remembrance), New Year’s (new beginnings), and the Chinese New Year (new beginnings).
So I was wondering, and at the risk of being accused of “cultural appropriation:” What might happen if all of us celebrated the spirit of these holidays?
The Holiday Season
Thanksgiving, which we have just observed, is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, but we can, if we choose, make every day of the year a thanksgiving. No matter how poor, no matter how alone, no matter what trials we may be suffering, surely we can find some person or circumstance for which we feel grateful. Often many of us, and I very much include myself, become so caught up in life or so accustomed to a routine that we forget to stop, look around, and appreciate what blessings we have.
“Gratitude,” G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “is happiness doubled by wonder.” Engaging that sense of wonder often means lifting our eyes from the cold ground to the stars. And who knows? Maybe that sense of wonder and gratitude will bring us benevolence.
Christmas for believers and unbelievers often comes wrapped in a frenetic round of parties, shopping for gifts, and decorating. This whirl of discombobulation can anesthetize us to the spirit of that season when all of us, whatever our religious beliefs, might aspire to become men and women of “good will:” to listen to others; to offer charity in our words and deeds; to forbear from that critical remark to a spouse or that snarky comment to an employee.
Hanukkah is Hebrew for dedication and celebrates the rededication in ancient times of the Temple in Jerusalem and a lamp that then miraculously burned for eight days. Hanukkah reminds us that we too can rededicate ourselves to improvement in our lives, work, and relationships. And like that solitary lamp, our words and actions can bring light to the darkness around us.
Whether we celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1 or the Chinese New Year on Jan. 25, New Year’s means out with the old and in with the new. We ring in the new year with parties, with certain rituals and resolutions, and for many of us, with the fervent hope that Father Time will bring a better bag of gifts than the one given us by the old year.
Here, too, these New Year’s celebrations afford us the opportunity to resolve to practice “charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence,” and other virtues. Many among us resolve to lose weight, drink less, or spend money more frugally, and these are noble pursuits. But what might happen if we resolved to be friendlier to that old grouch next door? What might come of avoiding water-cooler gossip at work? What if we brought into our homes along with our briefcases, backpacks, and groceries a spirit of benevolence?
If you have read this far, you’re probably thinking, “This dude should join a cheerleading squad.”
But please bear in mind, good reader, I am addressing myself as much as to you. And given our current miasmatic political and cultural climate, I figure we all need cheerleaders. Heaven knows I do.
Let me end as I began, with Marley. To paraphrase that remorseful old ghost, the common welfare is our business. We may lack the means to change the ugly language of our politicians or the crudities found in so many of our celebrities, but we don’t have to imitate their behavior.
We can change ourselves.
And that’s a healthy start toward changing the culture.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.