Well my first thought is always, is Bob Cratchit played by Kermit the Frog in this version? Every year I read A Christmas Carol in preparation for Christmas, and I’m always surprised and pleased by the richness of the narrative in its original, undiluted by hundreds of renditions and yes, the odd Muppet here and there (that’s also my favorite movie adaptation, because of course). A Christmas Carol is a chilling thriller as well as a heart-warming tale, full of commentary on greed, financial disparity, controversial Malthusian theory, and the spirit of Christmas. In the words of the gigantic puppet who played the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Muppet Christmas Carol, Christmas “is the summer of the soul in December.” (I also like the singing mice 🙂 )
A Christmas Carol is also about the terror that comes with realizing you’re mortal, and the consequences of living not just an immoral, but an ungenerous life. In this era, we’ve learned to treat charity and good works as something unnecessary and sometimes onerous, something that other, better people do. Normal people can’t do things like join the Peace Corps or donate huge amounts of money to charities, and more often than not, the concept of charity either slips our minds, or we hold it in contempt.
A Christmas Carol makes it clear that it is everyone’s duty to care and provide for others, regardless of what you have. It is not only the rich that should give back; everyone has the means to help others, and not just with donations of money or goods. The Ghost of Christmas Present spreads good cheer among the poor and rich people of London, sprinkling water from a handy cornucopia that causes people to stop bickering, makes them stop and count their blessings, makes them more likely to treat their fellow man, in the words of Scrooge’s nephew, as “fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” That’s the true spirit of Christmas: compassion for others.
Good works often don’t mean money. It means kind words and actions, it means shifting the focus of your day from yourself to others, often in the most seemingly inconsequential ways that could make a world of difference. It means staying positive and spreading that positivity to others. It’s about helping others unselfishly. And it’s easier than it seems.
But back to mortality. I find it very interesting that the terror of death forces Scrooge into kindness. True, after his encounter with The Ghost of Christmas Past, it’s the introspection that follows the reliving of his difficult childhood that softens him up, but Scrooge’s moment of repentance occurs because he’s so terrified of experiencing Jacob Marley’s cruel afterlife, to be “captive, bound, and double-ironed,” doomed to want to help others but have no means of doing so. He’s horrified by death (which is right around the corner for Scrooge) and turns to religion, so to speak. He is quite literally a deathbed convert, and Dickens knows this. He could have made Scrooge a much younger man, but the protagonist’s age makes it clear how much contempt Dickens has for those who waste their lives in youth and only grow kind because they’re afraid of death and consequences in the afterlife. It’s hypocritical. Still, it’s not a pessimistic tale: for Scrooge, it’s never too late. He becomes the epitome of the spirit of Christmas, and truly. It just took an encounter with death to wake him up.
So that’s it. Just some thoughts on this little novel that has become so woven into Christmas culture. It’s wonderful to sit and read it.