“A Christmas Carol” Revisited

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote his classic novel (actually, a novella), A Christmas Carol,” in only six weeks, and it was first published on December 19, 1843. The first printing sold out in a matter of days.  Since that time it has never been out of print. Biography.com states: “Charles Dickens was a British novelist, journalist, editor, illustrator and social commentator who wrote such beloved classic novels as ‘Oliver Twist,’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ‘Nicholas Nickleby,’ ‘David Copperfield,’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Great Expectations’…. Dickens is remembered as one of the most important and influential writers of the 19th century. Among his accomplishments, he has been lauded for providing a stark portrait of the Victorian-era underclass, helping to bring about social change.” (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 12, 2019, on Thought.com titled, Why Dickens Wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’,” by Robert MacNamara, history expert and history editor on Amazon.com, and a former magazine journalist and fact checker for several major publications, he writes:

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is one of the most beloved works of 19th-century literature, and the story’s enormous popularity helped make Christmas a major holiday in Victorian Britain. When Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in late 1843, he had ambitious purposes in mind, yet he could never have imagined the profound impact his story would have.

Dickens had already achieved great fame, yet his most recent novel wasn’t selling well and he feared his success had peaked. Indeed, he faced some serious financial problems as Christmas 1843 approached.

Beyond his own worries, Dickens was keenly attuned to the profound misery of the working poor in England. A visit to the grimy industrial city of Manchester motivated him to tell the story of greedy businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, who would be transformed by the Christmas spirit.

Dickens rushed “A Christmas Carol” into print by Christmas 1843, and it became a phenomenon….

Beyond his personal reasons for writing “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens felt a strong need to comment on the enormous gap between the rich and poor in Victorian Britain.

On the night of Oct. 5, 1843, Dickens gave a speech in Manchester, England, at a benefit for the Manchester Athenaeum, an organization that brought education and culture to the working masses. Dickens, who was 31 at the time, shared the stage with Benjamin Disraeli, a novelist who would later become Britain’s prime minister. Addressing the working-class residents of Manchester affected Dickens deeply. Following his speech he took a long walk, and while thinking of the plight of exploited child workers he conceived the idea for “A Christmas Carol.”

Returning to London, Dickens took more walks late at night, working out the story in his head. The miser Ebenezer Scrooge would be visited by the ghost of his former business partner Marley and also the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Finally seeing the error of his greedy ways, Scrooge would celebrate Christmas and give a raise to the employee he had been exploiting, Bob Cratchit.

Dickens wanted the book to be available by Christmas. He wrote it with astonishing speed, finishing it in six weeks….

When the book appeared just before Christmas, it was immediately popular with the reading public as well as with critics. British author William Makepeace Thackeray, who later rivaled Dickens as a writer of Victorian novels, wrote that “A Christmas Carol” was “a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.”

The story of Scrooge’s redemption touched readers deeply, and the message Dickens wanted to convey of concern for those less fortunate struck a deep chord. The Christmas holiday began to be seen as a time for family celebrations and charitable giving.

There is little doubt that Dickens’ story and its widespread popularity helped Christmas become established as a major holiday in Victorian Britain. [The following is taken from an insert in the article]:

The Impact of ‘A Christmas Carol’

  • The book was immediately popular with the public, becoming perhaps the most famous literary work associated with Christmas. It elevated the popularity of Christmas, which wasn’t the major holiday we know, and established the idea of Christmas charity toward those less fortunate.
  • Dickens intended the story as a strong condemnation of greed, and the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge provided a popular optimistic message.
  • Scrooge became one of the most famous characters in literature.
  • Dickens himself became associated with Christmas in the public mind.
  • “A Christmas Carol” was transformed into stage plays and later films and television productions. (Quote source here.)’

A brief summary of A Christmas Carol for anyone not familiar with the story is provided below by SparkNotes:

A mean-spirited, miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge sits in his counting-house on a frigid Christmas Eve. His clerk, Bob Cratchit, shivers in the anteroom because Scrooge refuses to spend money on heating coals for a fire. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, pays his uncle a visit and invites him to his annual Christmas party. Two portly gentlemen also drop by and ask Scrooge for a contribution to their charity. Scrooge reacts to the holiday visitors with bitterness and venom, spitting out an angry “Bah! Humbug!” in response to his nephew’s “Merry Christmas!”

Later that evening, after returning to his dark, cold apartment, Scrooge receives a chilling visitation from the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Marley, looking haggard and pallid, relates his unfortunate story. As punishment for his greedy and self-serving life his spirit has been condemned to wander the Earth weighted down with heavy chains. Marley hopes to save Scrooge from sharing the same fate. Marley informs Scrooge that three spirits will visit him during each of the next three nights. After the wraith disappears, Scrooge collapses into a deep sleep.

He wakes moments before the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, a strange childlike phantom with a brightly glowing head. The spirit escorts Scrooge on a journey into the past to previous Christmases from the curmudgeon’s earlier years. Invisible to those he watches, Scrooge revisits his childhood school days, his apprenticeship with a jolly merchant named Fezziwig, and his engagement to Belle, a woman who leaves Scrooge because his lust for money eclipses his ability to love another. Scrooge, deeply moved, sheds tears of regret before the phantom returns him to his bed.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, a majestic giant clad in a green fur robe, takes Scrooge through London to unveil Christmas as it will happen that year. Scrooge watches the large, bustling Cratchit family prepare a miniature feast in its meager home. He discovers Bob Cratchit’s crippled son, Tiny Tim, a courageous boy whose kindness and humility warms Scrooge’s heart. The specter then zips Scrooge to his nephew’s to witness the Christmas party. Scrooge finds the jovial gathering delightful and pleads with the spirit to stay until the very end of the festivities. As the day passes, the spirit ages, becoming noticeably older. Toward the end of the day, he shows Scrooge two starved children, Ignorance and Want, living under his coat. He vanishes instantly as Scrooge notices a dark, hooded figure coming toward him.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come leads Scrooge through a sequence of mysterious scenes relating to an unnamed man’s recent death. Scrooge sees businessmen discussing the dead man’s riches, some vagabonds trading his personal effects for cash, and a poor couple expressing relief at the death of their unforgiving creditor. Scrooge, anxious to learn the lesson of his latest visitor, begs to know the name of the dead man. After pleading with the ghost, Scrooge finds himself in a churchyard, the spirit pointing to a grave. Scrooge looks at the headstone and is shocked to read his own name. He desperately implores the spirit to alter his fate, promising to renounce his insensitive, avaricious ways and to honor Christmas with all his heart. Whoosh! He suddenly finds himself safely tucked in his bed.

Overwhelmed with joy by the chance to redeem himself and grateful that he has been returned to Christmas Day, Scrooge rushes out onto the street hoping to share his newfound Christmas spirit. He sends a giant Christmas turkey to the Cratchit house and attends Fred’s party, to the stifled surprise of the other guests. As the years go by, he holds true to his promise and honors Christmas with all his heart: he treats Tiny Tim as if he were his own child, provides lavish gifts for the poor, and treats his fellow human beings with kindness, generosity, and warmth. (Quote source and more details of Scrooge’s experience with each of these three ghosts are available at this link.)

In an article published on December 11, 2017, titled Did a Biblical parable inspire Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?” (subtitled: “Though he disliked organized religion, the creator of Scrooge knew his Scripture”) by Matthew Robert Anderson, Affiliate Professor, Theological Studies, Loyola College for Diversity & Sustainability, Concordia University, he writes:

Everyone knows the story of Scrooge, a man so miserly his name has become synonymous with penny-pinching meanness. Scrooge’s conversion from miser to benefactor has been told and retold since Charles Dickens first wrote A Christmas Carol in the fall and winter of 1843. Ebenezer is a wonderful character, so richly portrayed and fascinating he’s echoed in stories from “The Grinch” to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Pop culture has embraced both Dickens and his tale. With this season’s The Man Who Invented ChristmasHollywood has done it again.

But who was Scrooge before he was, well, Christopher Plummer? The inspiration for the crotchety Christmas-hater may have been those who put Dickens’ own father into debtor’s prison and were responsible for young Charles working in a shoe-blacking factory.

Some Dickens scholars believe the author’s 1843 visit to sooty Manchester, or to “the black streets of London,” (as he described them in a letter to a friend) influenced him. It may be that the fable was a moral reminder from Dickens to himself, as he teetered on financial ruin. This is the theory proposed in the book by Les Standiford on which this year’s movie is based.

Did Dickens in fact invent Christmas, as we know it? Hollywood may think so, but others, like David Parker in his Christmas and Charles Dickens vehemently disagree.

Whatever your opinion, the prevailing wisdom is that “A Christmas Carol” isn’t particularly religious. As a professor of biblical studies at Concordia University and also a Lutheran minister, I have a different reading.

It’s true that the celebration of the season which Scrooge discovers has much more to do with generosity, family gatherings and large cooked birds, than the Nativity. But maybe those seeking explicit scriptural references in Dickens’ story are underestimating the Victorian novelist’s skill—and his audacity. Perhaps “A  Christmas Carol” contains an alternative to the Bible rather than a simple borrowing from it. And perhaps that’s the point.

Jesus was a master story-teller

Jesus, by all accounts another master story-teller, told a parable that, stripped of Dickens’ English waistcoats, ledgers, fog and shutters, could almost be a mirror to “A Christmas Carol”:

“There once was a rich man. A poor man named Lazarus lived at his gate, with nothing to eat. Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died.” [Read Luke 16:19-31 for full parable.]

There follows, in Jesus’ tale, an exchange between the rich man, who is in torment, and Abraham, who acts as the guardian of paradise. It’s hard not to think of the innocent Lazarus as a precursor to Tiny Tim.

First the rich man asks for his own relief from hell. When that’s denied, he pleads: “I beg you, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. Let him warn them so they don’t come to this place of agony.” Abraham replies: “They have Moses and the prophets. They must listen to them.”

“No, Father Abraham!” cries the rich man, “But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change” (Luke 16:19-31).

One can almost hear the chains of Morley’s ghost rattling. What would have happened if Father Abraham had said yes? Something very like a first-century version of “A Christmas Carol.”

Let’s not forget that the people of our western English-speaking past, especially artists and writers, were imbued with Biblical references and ideas. As Northrop Frye, among others, has argued, they lived and created in a world shaped by the rhythms, narratives, images and conceptions (or misconceptions) of the King James Bible.

Was Dickens familiar with Christian scriptures? All evidence points to the fact that he was more acquainted than most. Despite an antipathy to organized religion, from 1846 to 1849 Dickens wrote a short biography of Jesus for his children, titledThe Life of our Lord.”

He forbade that his small retelling of Jesus’ life should be published, until not only he, but also his children, had died. The “Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man” was one of eight stories of Jesus that Dickens chose to include in that volume. But in his story of Scrooge, Dickens was too much of a writer to leave Jesus’ parable as is, and his age too suspicious of scripture to leave itunbroken.”

“A Christmas Carol” unites the deliciously horrific sensibility of the Gothic movement with the powerfully simple narrative style, joined to moral concern, typical of parables.

Was Dickens perhaps dozing off some Sunday while the rector droned on about Lazarus, until he wakened with a start dreaming of Scrooge? We will never know. But it’s an intriguing possibility.

Happy endings for the rich

Surprisingly, the Sunday after Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, preaching on exactly this text, spoke of Dickens as the “parabler” of his age. Stanley said that “By [Dickens] that veil was rent asunder which parts the various classes of society. Through his genius the rich man…was made to see and feel the presence of Lazarus at his gate.”

I would go further: Dickens took the parable, and then retold and changed it, so that the rich man gets a second chance. As a privileged societal figure who had gone through financial difficulties and who cared about the poor himself, Dickens freely adapted Jesus to come up with a story that’s ultimately more about love than judgement.

When confronted with Marley’s spectre, Scrooge, unnerved but unrepentant, addresses the apparition: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

The perceptive reader (or viewer) of “A Christmas Carol” can point a finger at Marley’s ghost and add: “Or maybe you’re an ironic but hope-filled riff on Jesus, by a famous nineteenth-century author who wanted to write his own story of redemption.”

The ConversationDickens not only invented this Christmas genre, but imagined a happy ending for himself in it. He penned an enduring story about the second chance even a rich person can receive, if haunted by persistent-enough ghosts. (Quote source here.)

In searching online for articles for this blog post, this is the first time I discovered articles that mentioned the comparison between Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 with Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Of course, reimaging a parable told by Jesus as Dickens did (as stated in the article above) in his story, “A Christmas Carol,” does not change the original parable and its meaning as told by Jesus. However, salvation is available to all who believe, rich or poor (see John 3:16-18), and that is the gift Jesus gave to all who believe in him.

I’ll end this post with the words from Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…

Mighty God . . .

Everlasting Father . . .

Prince of Peace . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

“A Christmas Carol” (1999)–Ebenezer Scrooge & the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Most of us have seen a movie version or read the book by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) titled, A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843, that was probably the most popular piece of fiction that Charles Dickens ever wrote, and he wrote a lot including his famous book titled, The Tale of Two Cities,” published in 1859 (source here). Here is a very brief plot summary of “A Christmas Carol” by garykmcd:

Ebenezer Scrooge is a greedy businessman who thinks only of making money. For him, Christmas is, in his own words, a humbug. It has been seven years since his friend and partner, Jacob Marley, died and on Christmas Eve. Marley’s ghost tells him he is to be visited during the night by three spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past revisits some of the main events in Scrooge’s life to date, including his unhappy childhood, his happy apprenticeship to Mr. Fezziwig who cared for his employees, and the end of his engagement to a pretty young woman due to his growing love of money. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him how joyously is nephew Fred and his clerk, Bob Cratchit, celebrate Christmas with those they love. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him what he will leave behind after he is gone. Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, a new man intent on doing good and celebrating the season with all of those around him. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on December 21, 2013, titled, Ebenezer Scrooge: a story of inner transformation,” by Paul Thompson, blogger at YourLifeForce.com, he states:

The Christmas classic by Dickins is a life-affirming story of the ability of each person to grow and transform their own life and the world around them, from the inside out, not the outside inRead it. It is actually a very short book, won’t take long and it packs a hefty punch. I think the story of Scrooge is inspiring about the fact that it is possible to transform one’s life and the lives of others. Second, while Dickens wrote the book to also highlight appalling conditions in Victorian times, it continues to be relevant to the point in history we are now in, with gross social and economic injustices still scarring our world. But importantly, we can all play some kind of part – small or big – to try and make this better, or at least not make it worse.

At the heart of “A Christmas Carol” is a person’s awakening – intense and deeply personal – that unmistakably changes his life and irrevocably alters the lives of others for the better.  By the end of the tale, Ebenezer evolves from a life of enjoying cruelty to offering generosity; from experiencing inner pain to reveling in healing and joy, and a transformation from appalling selfishness to selflessness.

Ebenezer’s example demonstrates something about the ‘revolutionary’ nature of ‘Love’ and its quiet, but fierce power to bring out what is really best and most true about us. His story is a reminder that the way to a better sense of self that lasts a lifetime starts from inside, from attitude, from the mind, from awareness of what is going on around you and how you choose to react to circumstances, since life and its happy times and not so happy times will always happen. (Quote source here.)

Scrooge was, obviously, a miser totally consumed with the making of money. In answer to the question which is the title of this brief article, What is the moral of the A Christmas Carol?” at Study.com:

The moral of “A Christmas Carol” is that the pursuit of money will not make a person happy. Scrooge devotes his life to amassing wealth, but in doing so misses out on the joys of family and friendship. The three spirits remind him of happier times, show him how others are enjoying the relationships he has shunned, and predict his sad end. He realizes that his money is best used making others happy and that his happiness will come from other people, not from the pursuit of money. (Quote source here.)

However, there is a bigger picture to “A Christmas Carol” that includes us. In an article published on December 23, 2015, titled, 10 Surprising Lessons from ‘A Christmas Carol,” by Bob Welch, speaker, author, award-winning columnist at The Register-Guard, Oregon’s second-largest newspaper, and adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, he states the following observations:

Isn’t the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge really what God seeks in us all?

Scrooge is now a dictionary-recognized word in the English language, and the phrase “Bah, humbug” is as much a part of Christmas as carols and killer mall traffic. But, frankly, come holiday, Ebenezer Scrooge gets a bad rap.

We hold his character up as the epitome of selfishness, but that’s to overlook how “A Christmas Carol” ends. To see Scrooge as a loser is to see Rocky Balboa as a loser, too, instead of hanging around to see how his fight with Apollo Creed turned out.

Rocky, of course, wins. And so, too, does Scrooge, defeating a lifetime of selfishness, a culture of class snobbery, and the materialistic demons that shackle him as they did his former business partner Jacob Marley. When Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, he is nothing less than a new man, flinging open the windows of new possibilities and given to an entirely new outlook on life.

And isn’t that what God seeks in us all?

With that framework, here are 10 lessons we can learn from Charles Dickens’ Christmas favorite:

1. Learning begins with listening.

Initially, Scrooge wants nothing to do with the three spirits who endeavor to show him the errors of his ways. But once he realizes they have his best interest at heart, he willingly lets them lead. “Spirit,” he tells the Ghost of Christmas Present, “conduct me where you will.”

When we listen, we learn. When we learn, we have the potential to grow and change in ways that will not only help us, but also those around us. Says Proverbs 18:13, “To answer before listening — that is folly and shame.”

2. Humility enhances vision.

Scrooge has a change of heart after the 3rd ghost’s visit (from Disney’s “A Christmas Carol,” 2009).

It always galls me when some athlete or otherwise famous person is caught in some sort of transgression and, at the press conference, says, “That’s not who I am.” Wrong. That may not be “all” of who you are, but at least for now, it’s part of who you are. And you’ll never get well until you admit that.

Scrooge does this. He feels sorrow at past memories. He feels remorse for having treated people badly. In short, he humbles himself. And when we see ourselves for who we are, we are able to allow God to help make us more.

3. Regret leads to renewal.

This is related to our previous lesson, but points out an important part of the process: letting that humility morph into regret, but not letting it shackle us to regret. Humility and regret are always means to a greater, God-breathed end. Regret is the rocket booster on a space shuttle that allows the craft to soar to new heights, then detaches from it and falls helplessly into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation,” says 2 Corinthians 7:10. But because of God’s grace, it doesn’t us fix us in our sin. Instead, it empowers us to shoot for the stars. How cool is it that Scrooge cries out to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “I am not the man I once was!”

4. Bitterness will poison you.

Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is a wise man. It is Fred who points out that “the consequences of (Scrooge’s) taking a dislike to us, and not merry with us, is, I think, that he loses some pleasant moments . . . he loses pleasant companions.”

In other words, in rebuffing Fred’s invitation to join in the Christmas merriment, it’s Scrooge who loses. It’s been said that bitterness is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. Wrong. The victim of bitterness is ourselves.

5. There’s joy in starting over.

Scrooge gets a bad rap. Too much attention is paid to his mean-spiritedness and not enough to the all-new Ebenezer. We see the sullen, bitter, biting Scrooge, but not the laughing, giving, joyful Scrooge. On Christmas morning, however, he reminds us that starting over washes us in newness.

“I’m quite a baby,” he says. “Never mind, I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby.” People get in ruts and forget that they needn’t stay there. Scrooge’s turn-around reminds me there’s hope for us all, if we’re willing to begin anew.

6. We must be present to win.

On Christmas morn, one of the first things Scrooge does after realizing he’s been given a second chance at life is to fling open his window. He moves from self to the world at large. He notices life around him instead of only himself. To notice is to see. To see is to feel. To feel is to build connections with those around us. And to build connections is to bring love to the world.

When Scrooge asks a young lad to deliver a turkey to the family of the employee he has treated so shabbily, Bob Cratchit, it reminds us of this: the former taker is now a giver, which begins with noticing the needs of others.

7. Seeking forgiveness is a strength, not a weakness.

Actions often say we’re sorry more than words. For example, on Christmas morning, the born-again Scrooge makes a financial pledge to one of the two solicitors for the poor whom Ebenezer all but threw out of his office the previous day. The amount of money is so much that the solicitor says, “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”

Scrooge was saying, in essence: “I am sorry for being so stingy my entire life.” That wasn’t easy. But it affirmed that Scrooge’s turnaround is real stuff.

8. We need to live with the end in mind.

“Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on that stone,” says Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him the headstone with Ebenezer’s name on it.

The catalyst for Scrooge finally realizing he’s wasted his life on money and power is seeing that there’s an end to that life — and it’s a rather depressing end. To live with the end in mind is to be inspired to change now.

9. Redemption is about changed hearts.

We Christians try so hard to change people’s minds, but what needs changing isn’t views on presidential candidates or social issues. What needs changing is people’s hearts — ours and others.

What’s fascinating about Scrooge’s journey to renewal is that when he arrived at Christmas morning his circumstances were utterly unchanged. What had changed was his heart. Says Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

10. It’s never too late to change.

Nobody would have bet a pound on Scrooge turning his life around. But that’s the power of God’s grace: nobody is beyond the reach of His love for us. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you,” says Matthew 7:7.

But if He is there, the final question becomes: Will we make ourselves available to Him? “It’s too late for me,” some may lament. Wrong. As someone once said, the best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, but the second best time is now. It’s a lesson that Ebenezer Scrooge teaches us well every Christmas. (Quote source here.)

I’ve written two previous posts in the past eleven days on the subject of forgiveness and second chances: The Season for Second Chances” (published on December 6, 2018), and Serenity and Second Chances (published on December 12, 2018). And the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is definitely about second chances. Much like Scrooge, while we cannot change the past, we can change the future–and it’s up to us to do so. We all have regrets, but the choices we make right now can make all the difference in the world. So remember the words of Bob Welch in his article above when it comes to making amends and moving forward . . .

The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago . . .

But the second best time . . .

IS NOW . . . .

YouTube Video: “God Bless Us Everyone (A Christmas Carol 2009)” by Andrea Bocelli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here (short Disney video)