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A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Chapman & Hall, December 19, 1843

The Hallmark or Lifetime channel was showing a rather strange Dickens adaptation titled, It’s Christmas, Carol. For some reason I envisioned an LGBT version of the holiday classic with a lesbian named Carol wearing the pants in an ill-conceived Scrooge-family misstep. Quite frankly, had It’s Christmas, Carol really featured a gay or lesbian backstory, it would have made me far more likely to see the train wreck through to its conclusion. As it was, it was not long before I was shouting, “Bah! Humbug!” to the makers of this one for reducing Dickens to pure drivel and worse, for dragging the great Carrie Fisher down with it.

Keeping in mind the spirit of the tale’s message, the point here cannot be to demean, but no matter how much you may think the world needs unlimited adaptations of said material, please do not call me Scrooge for being unapologetically unwilling to celebrate this one or even go a similar route in offering up my very own Stave One-through-Stave Five recreation down memory lane that ends in a customary redemption of spirit. Nevertheless, I am willing to conjure up the requisite ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (and Marley’s ghost too) in order to serve as my guides, but only so far as they might help me in offering my two cents on the timeless Dickens classic.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.

The first cold hard freeze comes in late fall or early winter, maybe sooner, maybe later as these things go. And while the cold is welcome by some (allergy sufferers to the front of the line), it also carries within its bitter inhale a new set of obstacles not the least of which is finding creative new ways to keep warm.

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.

If it were only the cold topped with some snow, we would all probably manage just fine but it is also during these difficult months that we are forced to carry the heavier weight of burden brought on by challenges that have piled on during another long year: the types of challenges that are certain to try mens’ souls.

“I wear the chain I forged 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. Is its pattern strange to you?”

You see, phantoms just have a way of accumulating easier during the 364 other days of the year, the days before and after Christmas, the days that really put us to the test. While it is fairly easy to get into the yuletide gaiety of the holidays (or at least easy for some), what happens to that generosity of spirit during the bone-chilling-back-breaking-snow-shoveling days of January and February? How slow frozen hearts thaw during the lingering chill of March. What is the mood as we approach that annual demon deadline of tax day in April? Where is that intoxicating Christmas spirit then?

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Which isn’t to say that we exactly have it easy during the holidays.

What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

It is just that during the holiday season, you are more likely to encounter more goodwill than usual. This is the time we are programmed to light the lights, participate in cookie exchanges, attend holiday parties aplenty, and raise a cup of something-infused-something in celebratory toast.

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Instead of sitting through It’s Christmas, Carol in its painstaking, miserable entirety, or checking out the great Bill Murray in Scrooged or else attending Chicago’s traditional Goodman Theater version of A Christmas Carol, this year I choose instead to sit down and become reacquainted with the actual source. Blame it on the time of year I suppose. I would never think to revisit A Christmas Carol or Miracle on 34th Street during mid-July, which is kind of funny because harvesting holiday cheer year round is certainly a theme here.

And so this holiday season, I look beyond the immediacy of the trimmings, look beyond the precious ornaments that have been there from the start, and point to the past, present, and future alike, in hopes that this December’s reminders just might stick.

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!