In my family, one of our holiday traditions is to read from Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, in which a mean-spirited, miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge witnesses events so painful and moving that his life is forever changed. On a frigid Christmas Eve, he sits in his counting-house while his clerk, Bob Cratchit, shivers in the anteroom because Scrooge refuses to spend money on heating. The scene is depressing and hopeless.
Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, bursts through the front door with a group of merry friends and invites his uncle to his annual Christmas party. “Uncle,” he says,
“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, 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 as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Scrooge reacts to his nephew and other holiday visitors with bitterness and venom, spitting out an angry (and infamous) “Bah! Humbug!”
That night, Scrooge is visited in a dream by three ghosts—Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.
With Christmas Past Scrooge witnesses scenes from his childhood, his apprenticeship with a jovial merchant, and his engagement to a woman who leaves him because his lust for money overshadows his ability to love another. Scrooge, deeply moved, sheds tears of regret.
Christmas Present shows Scrooge the large, bustling Cratchit family prepare a paltry feast in their humble home. He learns about Bob Cratchit’s crippled son, Tiny Tim, a courageous boy of kindness and humility. This warms Scrooge’s heart.
And finally, with Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge sees folks discussing a dead man’s riches, vagrants trading the deceased’s personal effects for cash, and a poor couple expressing relief at the death of their merciless creditor. Wondering who the dead man was, Scrooge finds himself in a graveyard, shocked to read his own name on the headstone. Promising to renounce his insensitive, rapacious ways, he proclaims,
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. All Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
And then he wakes up.
Overwhelmed with joy by the chance to redeem himself and grateful that he has been returned to Christmas Day, Scrooge rushes out to share his newfound Christmas spirit.
“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.”
He sends an impressive Christmas turkey to the Cratchit house and attends his nephew’s party. As the years go by, he holds true to his promise to honor Christmas with all his heart. Scrooge considers Tiny Tim as if he were his own child, provides extravagant gifts for the poor, and treats others with kindness, generosity, and warmth. The story concludes:
“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”
Let us be people who keep Christmas well. All year long. Let us be people who notice those without, treat others with respect, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Let this be the real business of business.
In the words of Tiny Tim,
“God bless Us, Every One!”
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