Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Carol

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw!”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man's,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

(Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, pp 71-72)

When I was a child, my father would read us A Christmas Carol at Christmastime. At some point, once we got older, we would watch the 1951 screen adaptation, Scrooge, on TV (the one with Alastair Sim as the hapless Ebenezer). I remember being scared out of my wits by the spectre of Christmas Future with its skeletal hand pointing toward Scrooge's grave from under the black, hooded cloak, the first time I watched that movie.

None of the other cinematic adaptations I've seen can hold a (Christmas) candle to that 1951 version!

If you've not read the story in a while -- aloud -- do yourself the favor of "using the Google" to download it so that you can treat yourself to Dickens' prose. All the better if you have a British friend who can come over and do it for you, so the correct atmosphere can be established! But go with whatever you've got. You'll thank me. (At least read the quote, above, aloud, with all the appropriate emphases. Perhaps then you'll take me up on my challenge!)

Scrooge, of course, would never say "Merry Christmas" to people, because he didn't believe in all that "humbug." By the end of the story, however, he's shouting it far and wide.

Bill O'Reilly would be so pleased.

However, Bill, it ought to be noted that in addition to *saying* "Merry Christmas":
1) Scrooge began paying Bob Cratchit a living wage.
2) Scrooge took notice of, AND DID SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE ABOUT, those less fortunate than himself -- even strangers!
3) Scrooge made amends to those he'd hurt by his actions and/or attitudes.
Why people get so bent-out-of-shape over whether salespeople are saying "Merry Christmas" is beyond me. What do salespeople have to do with Christmas, anyway? Christmas music will be off the airwaves as of 26DEC08, and Valentine's Day merchandise on the shelves at the same time. So what if stores don't have signs saying "Merry Christmas"! Sheesh. I've managed to make it through to Christmas Day this year without going into a single mega-mall, and it's not diminished my Christmas spirit in the least!

So here's the deal: If you *need* to say "Merry Christmas" to me as a political statement, hold your breath. The last I checked, Christmas isn't primary a political phenomenon. I'll hope that you have Happy political Holidays.

It's a PRAYER, Bill, not a slogan.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (NRSV: Mt 25:34-36)
But if you're saying "Merry Christmas" because you recognize Christ truly as Emmanuel -- God with us in those around us -- and so you're paying your employees a living wage (or advocating that others do), and you're doing something constructive about those who are hurting financially (without judging them harshly and dismissing them, as Scrooge had once done), and you're making amends to those you've harmed, then go right ahead and wish away! I'll wish you a "Merry Christmas" back.

And I'll mean it as a blessing, not as a political statement.
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

(Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, p 100)
May your hearts laugh this night, and may that be enough for you.

"God bless us, every one."

Fr. Tim, SJ

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tim, Define "living wage"? Do you mean enough to pay your bills BEFORE or AFTER the government takes their "cut"? Perhaps you mean the less than 25K we took as payment out of our business for working 12-15 hrs a day? Perhaps you mean paying the government 25% first (because they take it),our 13 employees next, and having 5 of Steve's paychecks uncashed at year's end to ensure everyone else including the creditors have their money???????? (Our profit margin continues to go up - so yes to all you who wonder - we are a very viable business!)
The Dickens tale makes no mention of religion. We see that Scrooge learned to love money over people but why did it take a dead partner to intervene & not a live priest/deacon/pastor to change his heart?

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