Redemption in “A Christmas Carol”
After realizing how much I enjoyed most of the movie adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” I had seen, I decided to buy and read the book on my Kindle about two weeks ago. The story is obviously quite timeless, having been told and retold dozens of times, in many different mediums, and many different actors. The lessons about the results of a life lived in cold, callous greed compared to one lived in warmth, kindness, and generosity and the beautiful picture of redemption are always beautiful. No matter who is telling the story or how it is being told, the message is always a great one. But, as is the case with most stories, the book does the best job. The way Dickens compares Ebeneezer Scrooge at the beginning to the changed man he is possesses a quality that is unique to the page.
This is the picture he paints of Scrooge in the opening pages:
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! […] The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thine lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.” (Dickens)
Scrooge isn’t just greedy — he’s a black hole of frightening avarice. He isn’t just unkind — he’s so cold that you can see it in his face, his voice, and his walk.
The story’s path is familiar, as we realize just how sad Scrooge’s life is. He prefers the dark, hates Christmas carols, and suggests that the world would be better off if the poor and destitute died off. He cannot understand the sacred warmth of Christmas, and sneers at anyone who does.
He encounters four ghosts; his partner, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Pretty much everyone understands how the story goes. By the time the third ghost visits, Scrooge has very much changed. He sees that much of his cold and bitterness comes from the abandonment he faced as a child, the grief of loss, and his own turning towards greed and a love of money. He has seen just how beautiful the celebration of Christmas is and the peace and harmony and joy it brings to every person of every class.
The last Ghost does not have a kind image. He shows Scrooge the result of a life lived as an unchanged man— cold, ignored, robbed, forgotten. He is overwhelmed by fear and sadness when he sees his name on his own grave. He knows, deep down, that this will not be his future, not if he can help it. He knows he has seen what he has seen for a reason, that he is not destined for this end.
Dickens writes out Scrooge’s final confession in dramatic fashion:
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live it in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons they teach me. Oh tell me, I may sponge away the writing on this stone!” (Dickens).
He wakes from his last vision, here, and the picture is radically different. He runs around his room with more energy than he has ever had, he smothers strangers and passersby with kind words and a kinder smile, and shows a special warmth to his long-suffering employee and nephew. He is more generous than anyone anticipates him to be. And he’s even better than that:
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” (Dickens)
Scrooge doesn’t care if his change is met with derision or mocking laughter — by the end, he was remembered not as a callous, cynical, greedy, bitter man, but a man who “knew how to keep Christmas well” (Dickens).
There are not many references to Christ in the story, but Dickens often quietly recalls the sacred and holy origins of the day, as if writing the name would burn up the pages of the manuscript. But this story is still the story of a sinner who repents and becomes not just a changed man, but changed in a way that makes him unrecognizably different and filled with impossible joy and light. He changes because of what Christmas brings.
It’s not too late if you have lived a life like Ebeneezer Scrooge, or have suffered terrible loss. There is no trauma or choice that cannot be redeemed or changed. There is no attitude that can’t be made new.
Christmas is coming! You haven’t missed it!