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My New Book!

Friday, December 29, 2023

December 29, 2023: Christmas Stories: A Christmas Carol

[This December we commemorate the 200th anniversary of Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (well, maybe we do—see Monday’s post!). That was one of many Christmas stories I read to my sons when they were young, so this week I’ll AmericanStudy it and four other such holiday classics!]

On two vital lessons from one of the most enduring Christmas stories.

Four years ago this week, I started one of my favorite Saturday Evening Post Considering History columns, on Dorothy Day and the true spirit of Christmas, by quoting my favorite moment from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). I’d ask you to check out that column and opening if you would, and then come on back here for further thoughts on that spot and Dickens’ iconic story.

Welcome back! As I wrote there, I think Dickens’ central anti-poverty themes have been under-remembered despite his story’s enduring popularity. It’s not only that an awareness of the horrifying ubiquity of extreme poverty is one of the main lessons that Ebenezer Scrooge must learn, nor even (as that particular quote exemplifies) that he likewise is forced to realize that he is in no way better than (and indeed in many ways worse than) his most impoverished fellow countrymen and humans. Along with those key takeaways, Dickens also makes a compelling and crucial case that if we don’t address those realities and make things significantly better for those in the worst situations, it spells doom for all of us—that, to quote another of my favorite artists, “in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.” As I always note when I use that Bruce quote, it’s an ideal, and too often perhaps an unattainable one—but I don’t know that any ideal is more worth fighting for, and that’s certainly a central lesson of A Christmas Carol as well.

But what makes Dickens’ story so powerful isn’t just that Scrooge learns such things, but that he changes, becoming (in another top-tier quote) “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew.” And to me, one of the wisest elements of A Christmas Carol is its recognition that such change requires both empathetic epiphanies about other people (like Scrooge’s care for Tiny Tim and his future) and concern for one’s own welfare (Scrooge’s fears of dying alone and unredeemed in every sense). The latter might seem far more selfish than the former, and in a literal sense it is; but the truth is that asking people to entirely abandon their self interests, to think only and entirely of others, is unrealistic, if not indeed impossible. The true spirit of Christmas is to receive as well as to give, to feel loved and cared-for ourselves as well as to share those feelings with others, and it is when Scrooge realizes that his life, past, present, and especially future, is devoid of all those layers of goodness that he becomes determined to “keep Christmas well,” all year round. I don’t know any more important story and message to share than that.

December Recap this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Christmas or holiday readings you’d share?

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