I have a [new] favorite Christmas tradition: reading through Dickens’s A Christmas Carol on a chilly winter evening with mulled wine and dear friends. This was our second year to be invited to this reading, thanks to the Tallon family, and it was the highlight of my Advent season.
Dickens has a way of making the eccentric loveable—from Betsey Trotwood to Mr. Fezziwig, we’re left with portraits of characters that are not only interesting but familiar. Likwise, the sometimes annoying characteristics of those around me (anyone from family to coworkers to friends to acquaintances) become instead endearing traits that make me love them just a little more. In short, Dickens encourages me to be a charitable reader of those around me.
After reading A Christmas Carol again last week, I’d like to add Scrooge to the list of eccentric yet lovable characters. After all, he’s just a grumpy old man who says, “Bah! Humbug.” But Scrooge’s major flaw is not hatred or meanness or even greed. His flaw is that he is habitually locked into a particular—and self-centered—way of life. Scrooge is not evil. He’s stuck.
In Stave One, Dickens points out Scrooge’s lonely inflexibility, “Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern.” He is a loner, pursues his own interests, and has done so for so long that he even declines a Christmas invitation from his very cheery nephew.
But as the ghosts begin to appear, Scrooge’s expectations are entirely interrupted, so much so that his sense of time is displaced as he watches the clock tell time backwards. Suddenly, his habitual ways cannot be sustained, and he spends much of his evening waiting anxiously for the clock to strike one.
This displacement of time, though, is what in part makes A Christmas Carol an Advent story—it is a story of waiting, preparing, and not quite knowing what to expect. Scrooge’s anxious glances at the clock, waiting for the next spirit, reminds me of my own longing not only for Christmas to arrive, but also not quite understanding just how Christ will be with me throughout this season and into the next year.
Of course, the Scrooge of Stave Five is the one we fall in love with. The grumpy old man has become instead an excited yet shy, generous yet nervous celebrant of Christmas. His habitual, by-the-clock life has been interrupted and set aright by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Time, in the form of the ghosts, has been interrupted, revisited, and renewed.
And that is my prayer for this Christmas season, especially since Advent has come to a close. I would not particularly like to see a ghost, but I would like for my old, self-centered habits to be disrupted by Immanuel, who humbled himself to enter our time and place in order to set everything aright.
*raises glass* And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!