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A Christmas Package Deal
Rich and yet poor, Scrooge is a man who has lots of money, but is spiritually impoverished. He doesn’t enjoy his business, his family, nor his spare time. And here a very wise storyteller sets out to tell us how overnight the curmudgeonly Scrooge could gain insights that would fill him with life, love and renewed vigor. This is wisdom we should definitely delight in, and hold in our hearts. When Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, he is a new man, a better man. He is full of joy and appreciation for his own life.
Yes indeed, this gift from Charles Dickens is like a hearty Christmas Dinner. It is spiritual nutrition that reminds us to cherish life. It is a delicious meal composed of wisdom and insights and…hold on….did I just taste something funny? Was that some poison mixed in there? Hmm. It might be best to examine the ingredients carefully before enjoying any more of this meal.
A Christmas Carol is a package deal. In it, three ideas are conflated. The first, which I’ve already described, is the truly positive and worthy reminder that we must never abandon our enjoyment of life. That is most certainly a good message, and a healthy part of the meal.
The second idea presented in the story is that one should not forego the holiday celebration. At the time Dickens was writing this, Christmas wasn’t yet fully embraced as a decent and moral tradition. The darker roots of the holiday, which included drunkenness, rowdy behavior, lawlessness, and social inversion, were being replaced by a new kind of ritual which was centered around the family and gift exchange. Whether or not to “keep Christmas” was still a bit of a cultural debate at the time, and Dickens was clearly advocating an embrace of the newer, wholesome ritual. This aspect of the package deal is harmless enough.
And there is yet one more ingredient in this Christmas feast, one more part of the package deal. This is the implication that if a person refuses to live by the principle of altruism, they will be miserable in this life and suffer eternal damnation in the next. And there’s the arsenic. I knew something tasted funny.
Ebeneezer Scrooge espouses a form of rational selfishness. His choice to live solely for his own sake is portrayed as so evil that three irksome spirits are necessary to disabuse him of his egoism in order to make room for the altruism he has heretofore rejected. If he doesn’t change his ways, he’ll end up in chains like his former partner who is now nothing but a tormented ghost.
Implicit in this package deal is the notion that Scrooge's spiritual void is caused by his devotion to business, his indifference to the Christmas holiday, and to his unwillingness to live altruistically. Because he suffers from being a man cut off from life and love, it is implied that his arguments against Christmas and charity must therefore be not only in error, but the cause of his sorry state. When he “corrects” his beliefs about Christmas and self-sacrifice, he is instantaneously transformed, and no longer the miserably selfish creature he was.
So, if we attempt to enjoy this holiday feast, we must be careful to push the poisonous portions aside. The one truly healthy part of the meal is the idea of spiritual renewal. In thoughtfully examining our past, present and future, we can regain our fundamental appreciation of life, just as Scrooge did.
May the Ghost of Christmas Past remind us to take pride in our accomplishments. May the Ghost of Christmas Present make us keenly aware of the values we wish to maintain and pursue. And finally, may the Ghost of Christmas Future remind us that our time here on earth is not unlimited. So let us not waste a second of it, not at Christmas or any other day of the year.
God bless us, everyone!
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