A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Moral of the story? Don't be a Scrooge!

This month my book club is reading "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, which is a classic Christmas masterpiece (Read online here). As I read it, I thought about changes of heart. When we first meet Scrooge, Dickens describes him thusly:

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely, and Scrooge never did."

Dickens goes on in his description, but you get the idea. Scrooge is an extreme example of someone obsessed with worldly wealth and with himself - cold to the warmth of loving, human relationships. In short, he doesn't have a heart.

We often think of the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future who visit Scrooge, but as I reread the book this time, the Ghost that struck me the most was the first to visit Scrooge - the ghost of Jacob Marley, his old business partner. Marley is a mournful ghost because of his missed opportunities. Read Marley's reply to Scrooge's efforts to cheer him up:

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. "Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

I love those words because they remind us that our business isn't business, it's being truly charitable and loving others. Marley, and the other three ghosts who visit Scrooge, make him feel much the same way - during each Ghost's visit he thinks of something kind that he could have done, but failed to do. So, take this Christmas opportunity to do something nice for someone - don't be a Scrooge! It doesn't take much, as the Ghost of Christmas Past reminds Scrooge. In this section of the book, Scrooge is given a glimpse of his old boss, who kindly threw a Christmas party and invited the entire neighborhood. The Ghost of Christmas past remarks that this was a waste of money:

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Scrooge learns that much money is not prerequisite to sharing Christmas joy (a needful lesson for those of us with less wealth than Scrooge). Scrooge is changed into a generous and giving person. Though Scrooge's change of heart comes suddenly, I like to hope that it was sincere and lasting. By the end of the book, Scrooge is as happy as a school child, delighting in sending a prize turkey to his clerk (anonymously, which I love). Contrast the closing description of Scrooge with the beginning description. I'll let Dicken's masterful words close this post (don't forget to play the song at the end - in honor of my brother, it's Chanticleer). I hope we can all have a change of heart in seeking to do good, be charitable, and lift others with the joy of Christmas!

"[Scrooge] 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.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"


  1. Love it! However, is it a bad thing if the second paragraph from the first quote reminded me of Dick Cheney? I am clearly not in the Christmas spirit yet, sorry.

  2. Ha ha, I hadn't thought! But you are right. We can only hope that the Ghost of Nixon will haunt Cheney this Christmas and prod him to a change of heart...