What A Christmas Carol Taught Me About Holidays
Start at Luke 2 if you wish to know why there is Christmas, but if you live in hard times, then Charles Dickens might save your Christmas. The claim that Dickens invented Christmas in the English speaking world is nonsense—he revived it.
The World Dickens Faced
The industrial revolution combined with free markets have lifted more people out of poverty than any human idea, and Great Britain in Dickens’ time was on the way to those rewards. Times were booming and the Victorians were right to be proud of increasing standards of living. Yet success tempts a culture to measure everything by the area in which success is being found.
When the economy is booming, then the unwise begin to measure everything in terms of economics. On the right, this lead to a harsh Social Darwinism where the weak had better just go die and so decrease the surplus population. The harsh world that measured everything by the balance sheet was not even good business. People cannot live by a rising GNP alone. The weak, think Tiny Tim, are God’s own image, and a just society will not, in favor of growth and prosperity of the many, leave him to die.
On the left, Marx analyzed all of life into economics and proposed unworkable Utopian economic theories. Enforcing those ideas would kill millions in the twentieth century and push millions more into poverty.
Social Darwinism and Marxism both hate Christmas, because Christmas denies that all of life is economic. Doing so means that we can celebrate free markets and all the good economic prosperity does without making that all of life.
Christmas says: God was utterly powerful, prosperous, and perfect. He emptied Himself of it all. He acted not in terms of profit or loss—His loss was nearly absolute—but from love. Love embraces liberty, freedom in every area including economics, but love never forgets the totality of the beloved.
Mankind is economic, rational, spiritual, and active. We build schools, churches, and businesses. Dickens values all three areas and refuses to reduce his characters to economic actors. Scrooge is not robbed of his wealth by an omnipotent state bent on redistributing wealth. His Christian heart causes him to give charity, so much more effective than welfare. Scrooge gives gifts, not to stimulate the economy, but out of love.
Dickens looked to Bethlehem and also ancient English traditions and revived Christmas: a holiday that cannot be knowing if measured in economic impact. If you spend your day measuring the worth of the gift of the magi, go read some O. Henry (Gift of the Magi) and learn what gift giving is.
If the Hols are not just about the economy, then what more is there? Dickens revives some old truths that in the Age of Pickwick, just a generation before his time, had been common. Charles Dickens made sure they were not lost.
Five Things to Learn from the Carol
Christmas is religious.
When Scrooge repents—changes his ways—one of his first acts is to go to Church. Go to Church on Christmas Eve or Day. Begin well or finish badly. The Lord Jesus permeates the Carol: the ethics in it make no sense without Jesus and the Church.
Don’t get upset if your “secular” neighbor does not get this fact. Instead, rejoice that once a year the beauty of our Faith pulls at him, tugs at him. The old familiar carols play, and in his heart he knows God is not dead.
Celebrate Christmas better than anyone on your block, beginning in Church, lift up Jesus in your jollification and all men will be drawn to Him.
Christmas is jollification over twelve days.
Bob Crachitt, Scrooge’s miserable clerk, rushes in (a wee bit late) after his family feast on Saint Stephen’s Day (the day after Christmas). A puckish Scrooge pranks the poor man, but then celebrates with him over a bowl of hot Christmas punch.
The ghosts (Christmas Past, Present, and Future) had shown the old sinner twelve days of feasting, even amongst those who had to work over the Twelve Days. Each day carried some special party or plans. These little jollifications keep a single twenty-four hours from having to carry all the expectation built up over Advent. Christmas is coming and must not be allowed to depart before the time.
Take time each day to remember the Incarnation—the remarkable event that made joy inevitable for whosoever will be joyous—and to celebrate in some way.
Christmas should be celebrated with many generations present.
A key moment in the Carol is when Scrooge sees his old boss, Mr. Fezziwig, dancing with the luminous Mrs. Fezziwig. They have danced this one dance for a few decades and practice with muscle memory makes them most excellent. The young and the old join together in jollification.
No man is an island, but we have made—it was already happening in Dicken’s time—each generation an island. We isolate ourselves by allowing marketing organizations to sell us new music, new art, and new customs at a rate that is inhuman. As a result, my Spotify has nothing in common with yours and we are isolated from each other.
This is death before death as generations that should speak to each other do not as if they were already gone.
Christmas, Dickens intuited, is one time where this evil is not quite present. We still know the songs. God help us, but even singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is generational and so redemptive. Find many things you can do that the oldest and the youngest know.
Repeat old folk ways, even if they are not so old. A Charlie Brown Christmas is a shared memory for five generations and that is very long for our time. Watch it together.
Yet there is a caution as Christmas is about a baby and the old order giving way to the new when the Christ Child was born.
Christmas should preserve traditions, but tradition must not get in the way of jollification.
Tradition is good, until it is not. A tradition goes bad when it gets in the way of true jollification or the original meaning behind the tradition. If a family custom begin in fun, end it when most no longer find it fun. (Ignore the odd Grinch who would steal your Christmas and woo him with your jollification.)
Scrooge sees Christmas celebrations in the past and present and they are not the same. The present keeps what it can of the past, linking to the generations gone before us, but not so much that the younglings have no fun. New customs are slowly introduced.
In our own house, we used to have a feast on Christmas Day. This was hard for us and so one year we moved the feast to Saint Stephen’s. The new date was kept and jollification increased!
A Christmas Carol is a bit of music. This is a musical holiday.
Because the Carol is written in words, we can forget that it uses a musical theme. Music runs through the story, starting with the carolers that Scrooge chases from his door. Each section is a stave and people sing throughout. This is just so as music is the high art that incarnates ideas.
When we sing or play an instrument, our bodies take ideas, especially mathematical ones, and make them flesh. We think, we play. Most joyously, we feel when the music is well done. Christmas is the Day when the Logos, the Idea, became flesh: music is the season. Angels filled the heaven and tradition says they sang . . . Just as sacred tradition says that God sang the world into being.
The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us full of grace and truth!
Joy not just to us, but to the world! The Lord Jesus is come. Someday—soon I hope—the Lord will come again and Earth will receive her King once and forever.
Advent is here, but the jollification is coming.
*Try reading a Christmas Carol and watching on the excellent film adaptions. Look for Alister Sim or George C. Scott as the best serious Scrooges, but do view The Muppet’s Christmas Carol for a movie that gets the jollification best. The Victorians loved Cricket on the Hearth best of all Dickens’ Christmas stories. I love it too . . . Read it if you have had your fill of this particular carol.
Featured Art: Old Fezziwig’s Christmas Ball by Harry Furniss