Charles Dickens

Thanksgiving? Bah, humbug

MT511/Shutterstock

Becoming more like Scrooge might not be so bad. MT511/Shutterstock

Scrooge is convinced that he has earned all that he has. His pile of money? It’s all that matters to him, and he believes that he built it all by himself. There’s no reason to show gratitude to anyone else.

Be thankful? Bah, humbug.

Could that be one of the reasons we’ve turned Thanksgiving into just another shopping day? We don’t recognize the gifts, so we don’t recognize the giver.

On 200th Birthday, There’s No ‘Bah Humbug’ for Charles Dickens

Photo: Christmas tree, © Jennifer Nickert / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Christmas tree, © Jennifer Nickert / Shutterstock.com

“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.” 
– Ebenezer Scrooge from
A Christmas Carol.

WILMINGTON, N.C. — ‘Tis the season for “Bah Humbug” and “God bless us every one,” especially as the world caps off a year of celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the birth of novelist Charles Dickens.

Starting this weekend as the Christmas season begins with Advent, cities will transform their streets to Victorian English landscapes with strolling carolers and stage different productions of Dickens' most famous yuletide work, A Christmas Carol.

Happy Birthday Charlie! Dickens' 200th Celebrated Worldwide

Google's Dickens doodle.

Google's Dickens doodle.

“Come in, and know me better man”
~ Ghost of Christmas Present, A Christmas Carol

As the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens is celebrated around the world today, it seems like a great opportunity to get to know the author a little better.

And where else would a tech-minded person like myself head first? Why the Google Doodle of course!

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Exegeting Ebenezer Scrooge

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

So begins the classic tale of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a story that has been told and re-told through various mediums since the novella was published December 19, 1843.

I sat down recently to watch the new Disney version of the tale. It features a CGI rendition of Scrooge with the voice of Jim Carrey.

After 15 minutes I shut it off.

It wasn’t that it was particularly bad. I didn’t give the movie enough of a chance even to figure whether it was worth watching. What I realized is that I wasn’t much interested in hearing the same story again from a secular perspective.

A Christmas Carol, I would argue, is not ultimately about Christmas, but conversion.

Christmas is the stage and the catalyst through which transformation occurs. It is a leading character to be sure. But, it is the radical change that occurs in Ebenezer Scrooge that most compels me.

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: The Horizon of Death

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

It is with death that Dickens begins his story and it is with death that Scrooge completes his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Scrooge hears other businessman saying that they wouldn’t attend the funeral unless there was sure to be lunch served. Men for whom he had great business esteem gave no more thought to his death than they did the weather. There were thieves who stripped the clothes off his dead body and the curtains from around his bed.

He begged the Spirit to show him a scene in which some person, any person, was moved to emotion at his death.  The Spirit brought him to the house of a debtor who rejoiced with his wife at the death of Scrooge because now they might have time enough to pay back their loan. When he was shown the Cratchit household there was no mention of Scrooge at all, only mourning for the passing of Tiny Tim.

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Suffer Not the Little Children

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

When I imagine Jesus telling his disciples, “Let the little children come to me,” I have a vision of the adults moving aside and Tiny Tim with his crutch crawling into the lap of Christ. 

In the scene where Tiny Tim is introduced, his father tells this story of him:

“Somehow, he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas-day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

It is this child like faith that moves Scrooge to ask the Ghost of Christmas Present if the boy would live to see another Christmas. The spirit answers that he sees an empty chair at the next Cratchit Christmas. Scrooge begs for the future to be changed and the boy spared.

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Moral Imagination

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

The Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge a total of five visions. It is only the last two which are dark. The first three show the seeds of Scrooges own repentance.

The first vision shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas past is that of a young Scrooge reading alone, neglected by his peers, just before Christmas. Scrooge, watching his old self, begins to cry.

“What’s the matter?” asked the Spirit.

“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should have given him something: that’s all.”

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: A Chain of Our Own Making

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

The specter of Jacob Marley entered Scrooge’s room. It had been seven years to the day since Marley died.

Before he sees them, Scrooge hears the clanking of the heavy chains his old business partner now carries with him.

Scrooge asks how it is that Marley became thus fettered.

“I wear the chain I forge in life,” replied the Ghost. “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.”

Marley did not realize in life that he was a slave. He assumed that his wealth and the absence of external restraints meant he was free, when in fact his miserly and selfish ways were forging the means of his own bondage.

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Lifting Up the Lowly

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Scrooge calls Christmas a “humbug.”

When his nephew tries to convince him otherwise, Scrooge responds:

“Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

The nephew retorts:

“What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

The nephew concludes with this famous line about the holiday:

“Therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say God bless it!”

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Christmas as Ebenezer

An illustration from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King.

An illustration from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King.

An ebenezer is a reminder. It tells the story of God’s faithfulness and our repentance. It is a marker for transformation and conversion.

Dickens, I would assume, did not give Scrooge the first name “Ebenezer” without reason. While the word has fallen out of common use (the hymn “Come Thou Fount” is often sung now with the word “altar” in replace of “ebenezer”) it is still powerful with meaning.

“Ebenezer” is the marker that commemorates the moment that everything changed. In difficult times it is the reminder that what was true at the time of the original change, namely God’s faithfulness, is still true today.

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