Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Taken from "52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol" by Bob Welch.
How do we learn life lessons from a crotchety old miser so unpleasant that dogs run from him on sight? That even the hungriest beggars place him on their no-try list? That the bitterest weather can’t equal him in terms of icy temperament?
Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol" is wealthy, selfish, and utterly discontent. A man not revered but despised. A man nobody wants to be like. And because Scrooge’s redemption doesn’t come until the end of the story, Dicken’s portrayal of him is like describing a train wreck in great detail before exalting the fancy caboose at the end.
"A Christmas Carol" is tinted with a fair share of how-not-to live lessons as well, as how-to-live. We learn from both. It is largely a book about a man not nearly so honorable and who thus can’t help by be shrouded in dark shades of regret. In such, my lessons from the story won’t provide the instant illumination of a switched-on floodlight, but I hope, the gradual lighting of a room full of candles glowing after one match-strike at a time.
Don’t Let People Steal Your Joy
“I’ll keep Christmas humour to the last. So a Merry Christmas, uncle!”
- Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, after their spirited debate
To see how Fred, Bob, and the two solicitors react to Scrooge’s curmudgeonly humbugging is to appreciate a lesson in contentedness. None of the men allows Scrooge’s dark perspective to dim his own optimism about life. The four don’t lower their standards to his.
Fred defends such spirit with gusto, with reason, and with pride, but he never lets that become more important than what really matters to him in this scenario: his uncle. He refuses to take personally Scrooge’s harsh retorts, even after the older man says, “If I could work my will, 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.”
In England at mid-nineteenth century, Christmas spirit had fizzled across the land, the victim of long Puritan rule that, as far back as 1652, had demanded that “no observance shall be had of the five and twentieth of December, commonly called Christmas day.” The Industrial Revolution had further dampened the celebration by insisting that factories keep running on Christmas Day.
Dickens railed against such a heartless approach to the season. Remembered Dickens’s daughter, Mamie, after her father had died, “Christmas was always a time which in our home was looked forward to with eagerness and delight, and to my father it was a time dearer than any other part of the year, I think. He loved Christmas for its deep significance as well as for its joys.”
Fred—patterned after Dickens, said friends of the author— responds to Scrooge by saying Christmas has made him a better person. Scrooge belittles him with sarcasm, and Fred responds by inviting Scrooge for dinner with his wife and friends, which shifts Scrooge’s anti-Christmas stance to an anti-love-in-general stance. Fred persists. Scrooge resists and invites the young man to leave—repeatedly. And leave he does, but, writes the narrator, “without an angry word,” stopping to wish Cratchit a Merry Christmas on his way out.
The world is full of Scrooge-like people who want us to join them in their misery. Our job is not to join them but to love them. Respect them. Encourage them to climb out of whatever dark hole they’ve found comfort in. Then we wrap up for the cold and slide through that Christmas Eve snow as if we were forever young.
See Life as a Child
“The office was closed in a twinkling, and [Cratchit], with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist … went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times in honour of its being Christmas-eve.”
- The Narrator, on Cratchit’s Christmas Eve walk home from work
On his way home from work after he’d been scolded by Scrooge for wanting a day off, Cratchit joins some local boys for some “snow sliding.” Then, once home, he joins his children to play a game of blindman’s buff. In other words, Cratchit becomes like a child.
At first glance, Cratchit’s becoming childlike in the aftermath of Scrooge’s huffing and puffing might seem insignificant, a minor detail amid Dickens’s major theme. But it isn’t minor at all. In fact, as the story unfolds, we’ll see that part of what Scrooge has lost is the very thing Cratchit still possesses: the ability to see life through the eyes of a child.
The narrator suggests there’s value in looking at the world from a child’s perspective. Scrooge is a man of wealth and position, a man who employs others, a man to whom solicitors come seeking help. Yet the narrator points out it’s the children, not Scrooge, who get it. They are living life to its fullest. They live with zest as flush as their rosy cheeks.
In short, could it be that children are everything the Scrooges of the world are not? When the narrator describes Cratchit sliding on the snow with the local boys, the visual image is a delightful contrast. He’s not properly dressed for such sport—he is, after all, an adult on his way home from work, and sliding is for kids—but the narrator clearly endorses his throw-caution-to-the-wind decision.
“If we can only preserve ourselves from growing up,” Dickens wrote in “When We Stopped Growing” (Household Words, January 1, 1853), “we shall never grow old, and the young may love us to the last. Not to be too wise, not to be too stately, not to be too rough with innocent fancies, or to treat them with too much lightness . . . are points to be remembered that may do us all good in our years to come.”
After all, where, ultimately, will Scrooge find his redemption? In a little boy—Tiny Tim.
It’s about more than Christmas
“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.”
- Scrooge’s nephew, Fred
When you think about it, it’s odd that the world selects a particular time of year when everyone is supposed to be nice to everyone else. The unspoken inference is that you should feel no particular responsibility toward others the rest of the year. Oh, sure, children might be told their Christmas cache is dependent on whether they’ve been naughty or nice all year long, but the overriding message is that this is a special season of kindness.
Dickens was particularly fond of the Christmas season, and he expresses that fondness in "A Christmas Carol" through Bob and Fred, the latter of whom makes an impassioned defense of Christmas: “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 hearts freely.”
Many people share Fred’s giddiness over Christmas; the holiday does seem to bring out the best in us. But it does so because it encourages us to be who God intends for us to be all the time: people of peace and goodwill toward others.
When Fred exalts Christmas—“I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”—he’s really exalting the Author of such joy. He’s exalting the idea that others-oriented joy should be more than temporary ceasefire from the normality of a self-oriented, humdrum life but should represent life at its fullest—all the time.
The ability to stop fighting and to treat one another civilly offers an ironic lesson: Peace is attainable. We needn’t hate one another. We can stop fighting if we agree to. Yet just as the soldiers returned to war after a short respite, we too often do the same after Christmas: we return from temporarily caring for others to warring with them.
Why not just call a truce for good, and, even without the holly and ivy, spread the cheer throughout the year?
Taken from "52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol" by Bob Welch. Copyright © 2015 by Bob Welch. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.