COLUMN: Dickens, Scrooge and the message of A Christmas Carol

Imagining a meeting between the author and the main character of a well-loved story, 175 years later

The winter street scenes around British Columbia, with colourful lights and festive displays, are far removed from the wintery images of 19th-century London depicted in Charles Dickens’s novella, A Christmas Carol.

The novella was first published 175 years ago, on Dec. 19, 1843, and since that time it has never been out of print.

The story, set on a Christmas Eve night, is well-known as Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser, is visited by three ghosts during the night. In the morning, he discovers what it means to celebrate Christmas.

In the story, Christmas is downplayed, but here it is the biggest celebration of the year and from late November until early January, the signs of the season are everywhere.

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Imagine if Dickens and Scrooge could visit us here this year and observe the Christmas season here.

* * *

From their table at the rear of the coffee shop, the two men, now retired, sipped their tea in the late afternoon.

For a time, neither man spoke. Finally the slender man broke the silence. “Each year I dread this season a little more,” he said.

“Why, Ebenezer?” Charles Dickens asked. “At the end of our story, you promised to observe this season.”

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Scrooge recited the lines found near the end of the novella. “The story is told every year. People read the book, or see movies or stage plays.”

“Please, Ebenezer,” Charles Dickens replied. “Some of the movies and stage adaptations have been quite accurate.”

“Yes, that’s true. But there’s also the animated Disney version and the Flintstones version. The Muppets took a turn at it. And let’s not forget those Canadian Tire commercials in the 1980s and 1990s. Give like Santa and save like Scrooge.”

Dickens sipped his tea. “I had never intended for you to become an advertising gimmick. I am sorry,” he said. “Still, the story and its message are known.”

“Are they really?” Scrooge asked. “Have you read the news? Controversy over the lyrics of Baby, It’s Cold Outside made the headlines. There’s outrage because a city councillor in Victoria, B.C. wants to remove Christmas displays. And somehow the song Santa Baby, the movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas all generated some anger.”

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“I suppose such things are to be expected when Christmas is such a big celebration,” Dickens said with a sigh.

“And here,” Scrooge flipped through the pages of a newspaper. “Pictures of gift drives and donations to food banks.”

“Much better than in our day,” Dickens says to Scrooge.

“If these people understood and believed your message, then they would show generosity all through the year, not just in December.”

Scrooge turned the page and pointed to another story. “The richest in this province have a net worth nearly 6,000 times that of the median middle-income homes,” he said. Then, pointing to another story, added, “There are almost 8,000 homeless people in British Columbia. How can a society with such inequalities claim to honour Christmas?”

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“Yes I know,” Dickens said. “Still, I choose to find hope in the fact that there are food banks and gift drives. There is a spirit of charity. And perhaps in future, that spirit will show itself throughout the year. I shall never stop hoping.”

Their tea finished, the two men slowly stood up, put on their coats and hats and left the coffee shop. The streets were dark now, illuminated by street lamps and Christmas lights.

“Shall we meet here again next year, my friend?” Dickens asked.

Scrooge nodded. “Of course, Charles. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” Dickens said.

* * *

As the two men disappear into the darkness, I am left wondering how I, like Scrooge, can “honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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