|Scrooge and the ghost of his dead partner Marley|
As I do every year, I drank deep from the well of sentiment, accompanied by a few draughts from the well of gin, and watched A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Alastair Sim, again. In spite of my best efforts, I have become an unrepentant sentimentalist, but true sentiment resonates very deeply into our souls, as does this movie.
How do you keep Christmas? It's a question Scrooge is asked several times, and he responds in a way that many of us can relate to, "Christmas is in the habit of keeping men from doing business." And I believe that is exactly the purpose of Christmas, to keep you from doing your usual business.
How you keep Christmas tells so much about a person. Midwinter festivals and merrymaking are as old as mankind. The Romans had Saturnalia, with religious rites and feasting for seven days. Slaves were freed for the period, only cooks and bakers could work, and a mock king was elected.
The Vikings had their Yuletide in honor of Jolnir, father of the gods, and fertility rites to insure a good harvest. There was feasting and food was sacrificed to the ghosts who came back to haunt the living at this season.
There are many customs and celebrations at this time of year, because in agrarian societies, there is not as much work to be done in winter.
Christianity adopted, adapted and refined many of these traditions into their own celebrations. The movie A CHRISTMAS CAROL plumbs the depths of the Christian miracle. Four ghosts visit Scrooge and provide a Pilgrim's Progress for his lost soul to follow to redemption.
The first ghost, his dead partner, comes back in chains, the chains he made himself in life because he didn't allow his spirit to roam free in this world; it was chained to his self obsessed greed. Mankind was his business, but his spirit never rose to that realization. He is sending three ghosts to help free Scrooge from the same fate, while there is still time for him in this world.
Here, the movie and Dickens become unmistakably Freudian. Scrooge endured tragedy when he lost his mother and sister, and his heart became captive of his financial successes. He became a miser. But the ghost revisits his past, much like a modern day therapy session, to reveal to Scrooge that he did have finer feelings for those around him until his greed turned him away from them.
The second ghost arrives bearing revelry and feasting, showing that even those in poverty are warmed by the spirit of Christmas. He witnesses the happiness of Bob Cratchit's large and quite poor family. Cratchit is a man who Scrooge despises and whose happiness he cannot understand and resents as stealing money from his pocket. Here Scrooge must face the man he is. This is a bitter man who cannot keep Christmas because his heart has become hard.
He prefers his porridge without the extra bread because he won't pay for it. Here is the very essence of Christianity: to receive the blessings and the bread that is Christ's love, we must forget about the costs and open our hearts.
The third ghost is one whose face we never see. He shows Scrooge the future and it is very bleak. But the event in the future that most moves Scrooge is the absence of little lame Tiny Tim by the fireside. Here, again, is another essential Christian message. Scrooge must use the wealth his talents have brought him to do good, as best as he can.
Of course, it is the riotous, mad joy of Scrooge when he wakes up Christmas morning, a new man, a man full of the spirit of generosity that is the triumphant climax of the film. He literally dances for joy and for the joy of being able to give freely, without bitterness, envy or selfish motives, to others. After that, Scrooge became "a man of whom it was always said, 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, everyone.'
So how you keep Christmas says a lot about the state of your soul. I confess to having been a Christmas hater for many years. When I met my husband, I hadn't had a Christmas tree for ten years. I felt the sentimentality was a swamp of over emotionality that I preferred to steer clear of. The incessant red and green, and happy songs and bells drove me nuts. Like Scrooge, my spirit had a lot to learn and a lot of bitterness to overcome before I could experience the joy of Christmas. Wishing you the same.