“I refer of course to money” – Tom Lehrer ©
“Christmas Time is here by golly, disapproval would be folly”
And nobody knows this better than Ebenezer Scrooge. One of Charles Dicken’s most famous characters, Scrooge was written to personify the materialism of Victorian Britain. The character devotes his existence to ledgers, cash boxes, and bills for sale. There is nothing ceremonial here about the currency of Christmas, and given that the same is often said for our modern-day Christmas’s, let’s take a moment to prepare for Christmas 2019.
“Deck the halls with hunks of holly, fill the cup and don’t say…”
‘Bah! Humbug!’ is, as you know, what Scrooge would blurt out here. ‘Humbug!’ is Scrooge’s first word in A Christmas Carol, (Etymology: heavily contested, although my favourite has the word derive from the Italian uomo bugiardo, or ‘lying man’).
Scrooge would fill the cup. His cup.
“When. Kill the turkeys, ducks, and chickens. Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens…”
I intend to.
“Even though the prospect sickens…”
Ikuurnni Scented Squishy Jumbo Panda, ‘Don’t Burn This Book’ by Dave Rubin, other Playmobil pop-up books, Littlest Pet Shop Hurrying Hamsters, Toilet Golf Set, FIFA 18, FIFA 19, Pro Evolution Soccer, Twister, Personalised Wedding Scrapbook, Transformers 1, Transformers 2, Transformers 3, Frozen Elsa 12-inch Classic Doll, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (2nd Ed), Sugarlump and the Unicorn Book and Toy Gift Set, Mini Jellyfish Mood Lap, Jemima Puddleduck Large Soft Toy, Basketcase Headband Hoop Game, 6 Pairs of Mens or Ladies Festive Christmas Socks Ideal Sticking Filler, Transformers 4, Transformers 5, Film Movie Quotes Christmas Quiz Cards Novelty Pocket Game in cello bag, Oddbods Stocking Filler, Tooky Toys Wooden Container Truck Toy, Soothing Nipple Cream for Breastfeeding Moms, MINLOGO Trump Keep America First Sports Casual Baseball Cap, The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook, Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Bar
“Brother, here we go again.”
Comical Grandad Spectacles Stand / Holder, The World’s Worst Teachers by David Walliams and some other guy, The Ultimate Dom Costume Reps for Jesus Cut-Offs, Balhvit Bike Light Set USB Rechargeables, Harry Potter LEGO Knight Bus, Bullyland BUL-12227 Winnie The Pooh Treehouse Money Bank, Sexy Bunny Girl Role Play PVC Leather Naughty Teddy Lingerie One Piece Bodysuit Cosplay Costume, Pop Pop Hair Surprise, NERF N-Strike Elite Disruptor Blaster, Zoella collage Throw Pillow, Festive Boozeballs, Botanical Bonsai Tree Grow Kit, Pure Unblended Cretan Honey, Hamilton O.B.C.R., The Big Book of the Blue, For The Record by David Cameron, Doc Martin Series 1-3, Sony NWZ-B193B Portable Walkman with Built-in USB, Gold Foil Lace Doily Round Cake Placemats, Crayola SuperTips Washable Felt Tip Colouring Pens, A Dog, Skechers Girls’ Shuffle Lite Trainers, Yu-Gi-Oh! Zombie Horde Structure Deck, STOBART Eddie Scania Highline Tanker
“On Christmas Day, you can’t get sore, you’re fellow man, you must adore.”
“It’s Christmuuuuuuus”, somebody, usually your adult sister, whines. It’s the one time of year which is different from the rest; when you’re not allowed to gripe or punch or do any of the other things you like doing…
Christmas is a time unlike any other. That is the premise of A Christmas Carol, in which, (those who haven’t read it but want to can here), we meet Scrooge, described as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”
The plot surges forward from the moment Marley enters the picture, Scrooge’s ex-partner long dead, who has returned in ghost form with the “chilling influence of death cold eyes.”*
*(Before this description, Marley is described by Dickens in a way which reads like a chick-flick, “The same face: the very same. Marley in her pigtails**, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling…”
**(I’ve substituted the M possessive adjective for an F one, and made pigtail plural, which I think makes all the difference.)
Basically, what happens is, Marley’s turned up to warn Scrooge about his impending such and such, then some spirits come, three of them, and all this culminates in the third spirit showing Scrooge his future gravestone, and with Scrooge wondering if everything he’s been shown is pre-destined or if he can change things, and then he wakes up, wide-eyed in more ways than one.
“There’s time to rob him all the more.”
Scrooge’s eyes narrow and one eyebrow arches, curls.
The problem with A Christmas Carol is it’s a bit too neat. A conversion experience on the Christian day in which bad man instantly becomes good man? Surely the ‘long dark night of the Soul’ (or as Douglas Adams once called it, ‘The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul’) isn’t meant to be literal. A complex like Scrooge’s can’t be resolved in one night. There should be more to unwrap here.
Where are the subsequent nights, the nights in which Scrooge grapples with his desire to be alone? Where are the nights when Scrooge struggles to understand his own cupidity, something which he eventually comes to understand as a financial agoraphobia restricting his ability to be alone and thus worsening his desire to be alone? Where are the nights when, having re-read his bedside Hesiod, he thinks that no matter what the Spirits told him, deep-down he knows that market-forces are the kindest way to spread the wealth – especially given that newer non-bootstrappy models for growth prove that every other model leads only to material ruin and spiritual sloth? Where are the nights when he questions the logic of his extroverted introvertedness? Where are the nights when he tosses and turns over being luckless in love and settles on some quasi-Oedipal explanation? Where are the nights when, in what would be his most common grapple, he wonders not what he wants to want, but whether he should want to want it in the first place?
To forego all this back-and-forth, and go from a die-in-the-wall Christmas-cynic to beaming St. “Earnestness” Ebenezer in one night, requires a reader perform some serious mental gymnastics. Okay, so Scrooge is pretty much fine with the idea of complete personal change from within. Doesn’t this suggest an unstable character though? Someone who changes so rapidly might well change back again; in this case, turn their back on the Spirits. Spirits aren’t real, and that they appeared to Scrooge so vividly could quite easily be taken by Scrooge as proof of their absence at a later date. As Dickens says of Scrooge: “he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros could have astonished him very much.” Once you accept that you were dreaming, then anything goes.
“The other three-hundred-and-sixty-four.”
I wonder if once Scrooge had woken from his extended sleep-state and had come to realise it had been a dream, he wouldn’t have changed after all. How many people radically change the way they live after a dream? However lucid the dream, we enjoy them and then we forget them. At most, Scrooge probably accepted Xmas as a day off from his banal 9 to 5 villainy, and only because there really is time to rob them all the more every other day of the year.
The thesis (not original to me): The conversion as presented by Dickens just isn’t realistic. Scrooge by all accounts was a manic depressive. He was an extremely troubled character, and would have relapsed the moment his Christmas exuberance subsided.
The worst part of A Christmas Carol is the ending. Dickens finishes A Christmas Carol with a fairytale ending of reform and goodwill. The interesting question about the ending, though, is not what Dickens did (because to question whether or not Dickens intended this final passage to be taken at face-value or whether it was an ingenious deception is to commit the intentional fallacy), but what Scrooge would do. And as has been argued, what Scrooge would do next seems pretty clear. He would have relapsed. Scrooge’s baseline is to be cantankerous. “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.”
“Relations sparing no expense will…”
Scrooge’s character cannot change. For example, when Scrooge’s nephew invites him to come and dine with his family, Scrooge does not accept this invitation. Instead he explodes at his nephew’s offer. He repeats “keep it”, as if he can at least be honest in this most material world by acknowledging that everyone can keep materialism to themselves, and that that at least would be honest. It is impossible for Scrooge to accept an invitation that spares no expense and requires nothing in return. Scrooge can’t even listen to the invitation, because in his universe everything is bought or sold, whether overtly, over a till, or otherwise, between a Mother and her Son. But it’s Christmas!, his nephew entreats. No!, there is nothing to be shared not even at Christmas. Scrooge is preachy in his comparisons of the insincerity of Christmas to the insincerity of politicians, but however deeply held his positions are they have a shallowness about them that is revealed by Scrooge’s conversation with his nephew given how Scrooge begs the question and repeats ‘Good afternoon’ four times in order to shut down the discussion.
Scrooge is, in other words, a Randy Objectivist ideologue. “What’s the consequence? He don’t lose much of a dinner,” says Scrooge’s nephew after their exchange. Scrooge’s Nephew completely misunderstands his uncle. Scrooge has everything to lose by accepting his offer. He lives and breathes his objectivist/consumerist ideas about the world and the idea that he would just abandon them without a struggle goes against everything we know about the human psyche. Even when the offer comes from his own family, Scrooge’s confirmation bias is such that all the offer is is evidence that all humans are as dirty as he. The offer is not innocent or genuine, because human love cannot be shared.
“Send some old utensil, or a matching pen and pencil… just the thing I need, How Nice!”
Cracking line, Tom.
“It doesn’t matter how sincere it is nor how heartfelt the Spirit!’
Because the Spirits really were wholehearted in their proselytising.
First, ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past’ makes Scrooge’s “cold eye glisten” by showing him the town where he grew up. Here Scrooge flits between ecstatic epiphany and depression.
Second, ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present’ takes Scrooge out onto the streets and meets Tiny Tim, who said Ghost says will die. Scrooges protestations remind us of his words from the beginning, concerning the problem of “surplus population.”
Third, ‘The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come’, a mute and deathish Ghosty, who shows Scrooge the pleasure on the faces of those who hear of the death their creditor, and the disregard in the voices of those who Scrooge in life respected and who mention his death only as a passing financial fancy.
“Sentiment will not endear it, what’s important is the price!’
How is it that your family does Xmas? Are you sentential about your prices? Is there a tension surrounding the order the presents are opened in? Biggest to smallest? Most expensive last? Do you have people who take offence at how slow or fast you open your presents, who silently enforce some Victorian joy-sucking unwrapping etiquette? Will there be breakdowns, from the older ones, if presents are deemed insulting, and from the younger ones, if presents fail to live up to expectation? Does your matriarch try her levelest to make the presents last ’till January? Does this smack of $-sign worship?
The Christmas I know overflows with this stuff. And then there’s the sheer amount of stuff. It’s comparable to the scene in which Scrooge meets ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present’, around whom, “heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch.” Not necessarily pricey nowadays, but nevertheless immense in its volume. It might be said that what is really important here is the price not of any one item, but the total sum price.
“Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing, advertising wondrous things”
Like, Love Actually.
Materialism grouches only go so far.
“God Rest Ye Merry Merchants, will you make the Yuletide Pay!”
When Scrooge hears the original version of this (‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, May Nothing you Dismay!’) from a carol singer at his frontdoor’s keyhole, he apparently “seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”
“Angles we have heard on High, tell us to go out, and BUY!”
Dickens began A Christmas Carol in 1843 and finished it in less than one month. He had just passed through a period of the piracy of his works, and had travelled to America to champion international copyright. He had no success, and perhaps the bitterness this engendered came out in the form of Scrooge (and now comes the threat of the biographical fallacy, because Dickens also had an imprisoned Father and worked in a factory from age twelve. His life was slightly harder than Hugh Grant’s, although both were men of genius).
“So… let the raucous slaighbells jingle, for our dear ol’ friend Chris Cringle. Riding-his-reindeer-across-the-uh-sky!”
“Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!”
I think A Christmas Carol should have ended here; this dream-induced moment of ambiguous epiphany, rather than the fairytale exposition from Dickens that we got instead. Here Scrooge’s epiphany teeters on the edge of believability. Has he really been changed, we are allowed to ask ourselves?
That the conversion in A Christmas Carol is too neat and tidy and therefore is not as believable as it could have been, is a criticism that has been heavily criticised by critics. To point this out, these particular critics argue, is to miss the point. It is to mistake fantasy for realism.
Because, as scholars such as Elliot L. Gilbert argue, Dickens isn’t interested in his characters progressing. It doesn’t matter whether Scrooge lived the rest of his days upon the ‘Total Abstinence Principal’ or not. What Dicken is interested in is his characters returning to innocence. Returning to their primary state. And sure enough, once I had read Elliot L. Gilbert’s take on A Christmas Carol, I no longer saw it as a moral story. I struggled even to see it as a Christmas story. Dickens’ ending could have had the same effect if he had had Scrooge throw all his money around the room and never open the window and embrace Christmas, because Christmas is a sideshow in A Christmas Carol… a sideshow which provided Dickens with an excuse to talk about a return to something.
This sideshow must go on. Tom Lehrer’s song Christmas Carol tells us that one reason this sideshow must go on is because it’s the biggest, longest, and most garish sideshow ever imagined and that there is quite a lot of vested commercial interest in this sideshow carrying on. His song is to be sung at Christmas, at Christmas. Irony is the coping mechanism we use to face this side of Christmas: this unrelenting self-referential side that seems utterly ambivalent towards people even as it pretends to include them. But there is another side to Christmas. A far less ugly side. An innocent side with childlike universal aspirations, encapsulated by the idea that Santa visits everybody, wherever they are in the world, and that he might like a present too. This other side to Christmas cares nothing for snow or religion or money, and so to complain about the moral distractions that come with crass materialism is in a deep sense to miss the woods for the Christmas tree, because while Christmas is ambivalent it is also welcoming: it is a home to go to, something you shouldn’t have to deserve. This heavily-lit sideshow must go on, says a song this time by Tim Minchin.©
My mother recently said about Christmas, “I don’t care what Santa comes down the chimney, I don’t care if he comes down wearing the Star of David.” She says she doesn’t care even as she does. She really means both. Christmas brings irony and sincerity together. When Scrooge is being visited by the first Spirit, he says that he should have liked “to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.” This is Dickens directly talking to us. And this attitude of innocence, once taken, makes it impossible to shit on Christmas.
Don’t stand underneath when they, fly, by.